A Few Good Reads

August 22, 2016 — 1 Comment
photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

Can the Devil Read My Mind?
There are few areas of theology Christians struggle with more than their understanding of Satan. There are so many unanswered questions about his origins and what he is able to do. Here R.C. Sproul answers whether or not the devil can read our minds. His answer is short, but shows how we can think through these kinds of issues. “I know that Satan has more power than one would normally find among human beings. At the same time, I know that Satan is not divine; he is not God, does not have divine powers or attributes. He is a creature with the limitations that are found normally with creatureliness. He is an angel.”

Your Neighbor is Not a Number
Many church leaders and pastors can quote volumes of statistics about their community. Jonathan Parnell is concerned we know the numbers about our neighbors without actually knowing our neighbors. In a call every Christian needs to hear, he pushes us out of our offices and back porches and into everyday life with the people who live around us. “ And it is true that some places are statistically more lost than others. But before describing that lostness with blanket figures or statements, picture the face of a neighbor, not a number on a page. Don’t pretend to know how conversations will go with the people in your city until you actually start having them. More often than not, people will be much more receptive to your church and message than those gnarly numbers seem to suggest.”

3 Lessons to Learn from Olympians David Boudia and Steele Johnson
Many have seen the video of synchronized diving gold medalists David Boudia and Steele Johnson saying their identity is rooted in Christ rather than in how they would perform in the Olympics. Davis Lacey shares three lessons we can learn from their testimony. “So let us be busy with the work of disciple-making, while enjoying God’s gifts and the identity he has bestowed on us through Christ Jesus. And let us watch and be amazed at the work God accomplishes through his Spirit, who is already at work within us.”

9 Books to Help Christians Think about Politics
Scores of books will be written about the 2016 Presidential election. I have never seen anything like this in my lifetime, and this year’s events have shown me that many Christians don’t have a coherent understanding of the role of politics and government. Thankfully many Christians have written about these issues throughout the years and Zak Schmoll has put together a good list to get you started in gaining a greater grasp of the relationship between faith and politics. “ome people are viewing this election as a necessary vote for the lesser of two evils while others are more willing to vote their conscience by voting for candidates who have a very limited chance of winning. Naturally, the consequence of voting your conscience is that perhaps the greater evil might win if people do not unite behind the lesser of two evils.”

Next Door as It Is in Heaven
Every once in a while you come across a new book and the title just grabs you. Lance Ford and Brad Brisoc accomplished it this week with their new work on loving your neighbors. I’m convinced one of the ways Christians can make the greatest impact in our current culture is to be a friend to the people who live around them, and this book looks like it will be a great resource to help us accomplish this. “There was a time when neighbors knew each other’s names, when small children and the old and infirm alike had more than their families looking out for them. There was a time when our neighborhoods were our closest communities.”

Six Things a Godly Dad Does

August 21, 2016 — 1 Comment

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
Ephesians 6:4

The words of Paul in Ephesians 6 remind Christian fathers that our parenting has a great end towards which we must aim. God gave us the task of teaching, correcting, disciplining, loving, and training our children so that they come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and walk in a way which pleases him. We often feel unequipped for this task, but looking to the Scriptures and seeing the example of other godly dads give us instruction for this great task.

Our oldest daughter just celebrated her eleventh birthday, so I have now been a parent for over a quarter of my life. There have been sins, mistakes, wins and growth as we seek to raise our four children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. I have ransacked the Bible, read books, watched other godly men, and asked them lots of questions as I have sought to discover the answer to the question, “what does a godly dad do?”

A Godly Dad Keeps Growing

A man can only be an effective father as he continues to grow spiritually. Our marriage and parenting will be impacted by our sin and lack of maturity. We will be impatient, temperamental, rude, thoughtless, and respond sinfully to being sinned against, so our only option is to keep growing in holiness and sanctification. Putting to death the sin in our lives and growing in Christlike maturity will have a practical effect on the way we lead our homes.

This means that fathers must spend time in our Bibles, in prayer, and actively seeking to walk in obedience by the power of God’s Spirit. Since we believe that the Gospel not only justifies us before God, but also is the means by which we grow as believers, we ought to meditate on the truths of the Gospel and live remembering who we are because of Jesus. When we see sin in our lives, we must repent and seek to grow. Where we see immaturity and foolishness, we take steps to grow in maturity and wisdom. The work we have been called to as fathers and husbands is too important for us to take a lackadaisical approach to our walk with Jesus.

A Godly Dad Loves His Wife

Men, before the call to parent our children is the call to love our wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. We can so center our homes on our children that we neglect our marriages, and a neglected marriage will become an unhappy marriage. All of our parenting efforts can be undone when resentments and hurts build up between our wives and ourselves.

We need time together with our wives without our children around. Date nights will prove to be important, especially when our children are young. It can be freeing to get out of the house and have a meal without having to feed another person, and also gives you something to look forward to together. However, as great as date night is, time together every day is of greater importance. Just as you can’t work out once a month and expect to be in shape, you shouldn’t expect one date night a month to be sufficient for growing your marriage. Get your kids in bed or in their rooms at a decent hour so you can talk, read together, watch a movie together, or simply hang out in the same room. This will give you the time together you so desperately need for your marriage to grow and give you joy.

A Godly Dad Teaches Consistently

Moses tells fathers to talk with their children about the commands and statutes of the Lord as they sit in their houses and walk by the way. He uses this rhetorical device to underscore the necessity of fathers teaching their children in every instance of life. The wise father will see all of life as an opportunity to teach his children about the Gospel, walking with Jesus, and practical wisdom.

Family devotions are not the only way for a father to teach his children, but they certainly can play a key role in the formation of our children. These times of worship as a family don’t require hours of preparation and a sermon, but are simple times to read, pray, and sing with our children. When your children are younger, you can read through The Big Picture Story Bible or The Jesus Storybook Bible with them. As they grow older, read a paragraph a night from one of the Gospels or a chapter from Proverbs. Then sing an age appropriate song that will teach them about the character of God and the Gospel. Close out by praying together. If you can set aside the time to have family devotions four nights a week, you will read, pray, and sing with your children over thirty-five hundred times before they leave for college. There won’t be a major breakthrough or “aha” moment every night, but the consistency over the course of years will make a major impact.

A Godly Dad Disciplines Patiently

A few months ago I wrote a post titled, “The Joy and Pain of Consistent Parenting.” It was an extended meditation on Proverbs 29:17, “Discipline your son and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart.” Consistently teaching, correcting, and disciplining our children can be exhausting work. We can easily give in to the temptation to let things go we should address or to “parent” by simply barking orders, and neither of these is an acceptable option.

Instead, we must patiently and consistency discipline our children. When our children are wrong and need to be disciplined, it is imperative that we take the time to calmly and patiently talk with them about what happened. Rather than yelling or losing our tempers so that our kids are focused on our sin instead of their own, we have to take the time to calm down so we can have a conversation with our children about the discipline they are facing. We should talk with them about the foolishness or sinfulness of what they did, what the Scriptures say about what they have done, and remind them that we discipline them because we love them. This takes time and is definitely not the easy way out, but it will train the hearts of our children and be better for them in the long run.

A Godly Dad Repents When He is Wrong

“What I said to you and the way I said it was wrong. Will you forgive me?” I don’t know that there is a more difficult thing for a father to say to his children. We will sin against our children at some point in our parenting, either through losing our temper, accusing falsely, speaking harshly, or in a thousand other ways. When we sin against our children, we must repent to the Lord and repent to our children.

The greatest temptation you will face when apologizing to your kids is seeking to justify your sinful behavior based on their sinful behavior. Resist this urge with everything you have because you sinned and that is all that matters. Repenting and asking for forgiveness will model repentance, humility, and the Gospel to your children. It will also teach them that they will be hurt throughout their lives and must learn how to forgive. Also, this process of repentance and forgiveness builds trust with your children. They know that what you say about repentance is real, and they also know that you value your relationship with them enough to humble yourself and admit you are wrong.

A Godly Dad Knows He Needs the Power of the Holy Spirit

Men, if what we have just talked about sounds like hard work, it is. We get up in the mornings, go to work during the day, come home to play with and spend time with our children, and then get them in bed so we can spend time with our wives. Then we fall in the bed ourselves so we can get up and get back at it again tomorrow. It doesn’t make for an interesting reality show, but this self-giving is central to what it means to be a father and a husband.

Because we must work hard and give ourselves in a way that is not natural to us, we need the power of God’s Spirit. We need his help to stay encouraged, to love, to exercise self-control, and to make our labors effective because we cannot change the hearts of our children. As Paul said, we labor in the strength that God provides, and pray that he would use our labors in our homes to change our children’s lives and bring glory to himself.

Related Posts:
How Do I Know if My Child Has Become a Christian?
To the Parents of Young Children

For Further Reading:
Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp
Give Them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson

A Few Good Reads

August 19, 2016 — Leave a comment
photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

3 Pieces of Marriage Advice from Spurgeon’s Mother-In-Law
Married couples, especially those in the ministry, can learn much from reading about the marriages of pastors and their families throughout history. Christian George recounts what Charles Spurgeon’s future mother-in-law told her daughter after Spurgeon abandoned her one afternoon in a throng of people before he preached. “Ministry is a unique calling with unique burdens that demands unique sacrifices. The problems Charles faced are common to most ministers: constant criticism, controversy, and conflicts. Susannah had to pick her husband off the floor when the weight of ministry prostrated him. She supported him when friends and family betrayed him. Bursts of depression were common to the Spurgeon household. Charles sometimes wept without knowing why.”

Understanding Sola Scriptura
Michael Kruger helps us gain a greater appreciation of the truth that God’s word is the ultimate standard and authority for all of life. We are tempted to leave this behind in a world with competing truth claims and increasing attacks on the message of the Bible. We need a revival of trust in the Bible and Kruger begins moving us in that direction. “Only the Word of God has the power to transform and reform our churches. So, we should not only talk about sola Scriptura, but we should demonstrate it.”

Brave New World 85 Years Later
Some of the books from the early and middle twentieth century pointing towards a dystopian future seem more prophetic with each passing year. Last year I read Animal Farm1984Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451 and have found myself thinking about each of these books at some point this year while reading the news. Brave New World celebrates its 85th birthday this year and Alistair Roberts helps us think through the enduring legacy of this important novel. “Against these things we must reassert the importance of moral self-mastery, of the relation between man and woman and the bestowal of life that can be occasioned by their love, of moral boundaries restricting the reach of the market and development of technology, and of the Lord and Giver of life to whom we are all beholden. If we fail to do so, we risk subjection to a bondage more insidious than any the world has seen.”

5 New Rules for Digital Parenting
We now have a daughter in middle school and she has friends with smart phones. As we’re trying to think about what we might do in the future about getting her a phone, I’ve been trying to read what others are doing. Jon Acuff shares some rules he laid down for his children with their phones. Part humorous and part serious, Acuff’s advice is common sense and our kids need to hear it. “My wife Jenny got so frustrated that everyone kept stealing and losing power cords that she bought a 12-pack. Let me repeat that sentence because I don’t think you heard me. My wife bought a dozen power cords. Teach your kids battery responsibility.”

Why Did Jesus Have to Die?
The death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus stands at the center of the Christian faith and all of human history. We understand that Jesus gave himself as a substitute for our sins to bring us back to God, but there are constant questions and objections to this cardinal doctrine. In this helpful little book from the “Questions Christians Ask” series, Marcus Nodder explains why Jesus died and what this means for us today.

In an honest moment at lunch after church this past Sunday I slammed my hand down on the table and said what I had been thinking for the past half hour. “My sermon stunk today.” I didn’t say this to fish for compliments; I meant it. If the sermon was a soccer team it would have been relegated when I got finished.

I’m not the only pastor who has felt this way, and many Christians have had these thoughts about their pastor’s sermon at the close of the Sunday worship gathering as well. He may have preached the text of Scripture in front of him and didn’t say anything heretical or unbiblical, but it just wasn’t good. Maybe the main point of the sermon wasn’t clear, the application felt stretched, or he just seemed “off.” Whatever the cause, you were glad it was over and he probably was as well.

The Sunday sermon is important because we understand that this is how God has ordained for his word to be taught to his people. So when the Sunday sermon falls flat and is unhelpful, what should we do?

If You Heard the Bad Sermon

Review it to Find Something Helpful

“A mature Christian is easily edified.” With this simple phrase Chip Stam reminds us that we can grow and receive encouragement from any sermon. If the sermon you heard this past Sunday seemed to have nothing to say to you, think through it again. Reread the passage of Scripture and look over any notes you may have taken. If the sermon was true, then there will be something you can glean from it to help you grow as a believer in Christ.

Pray for Your Pastor This Week

No one dissects the sermon each week at your church like your pastor. If the sermon was flat or confusing to people, he will know it. Pray for him this week because there is a better than average chance that he is fighting discouragement. He wants his preaching to draw people to Jesus and help believers grow into maturity, so he deals with great disappointment when he believes a sermon goes bad. Pray the Lord will encourage him and pray for his preparation for this week. Also, when you have prayed for your pastor during the week it helps you show up on Sunday with a greater sense of anticipation to hear God’s word.

Read Your Bible

Spend a little extra time in your Bible this week. If you usually read a chapter or two, maybe read one more or take closer notes on one of the chapters you read. Spending more time in serious Bible reading and study will help you grow and also prepare you for the coming Sunday as you gather with your church family to hear God’s word.

If You Preached the Bad Sermon

Trust in the Power of the Holy Spirit

Pastor, remember that even your best sermon would be dead on arrival without the power of the Holy Spirit to make it effective in the hearts of the people who hear it. Remember that you do not trust in the effectiveness of your delivery or the power of your argumentation for your sermon to stick, you trust in the work of the Spirit. You never know what he may do through what you believe was a subpar sermon. As the Puritans used to say, “God can strike straight with a crooked stick.” This isn’t an excuse to neglect to grow our preaching gifts, but it is a great encouragement on the weeks you think things went terribly.

Examine Your Motives

When you preach a poor sermon, your instinct is to think that you can do a better job next week and redeem yourself. Don’t think like this because the pulpit is not the ground of your justification and it is not the place for you to find your identity or bring in your ego. While we love the stories of a guy who gets knocked down and gets back up, the ministry is not the place for your reenactment of Rocky IV. Instead, look forward to an opportunity to share the Gospel with those who do not believe and for the chance to teach and encourage God’s people.

Related Posts:
How to Preach in an Age of Sporadic Attendance Patterns

For Further Reading:
Saving Eutychus by Gary Millar and Phil Campbell

Spiritual Disciplines Within the Church by Donald Whitney

A Few Good Reads

August 10, 2016 — Leave a comment
photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

Hillbilly Elegy Hits Close to Home
I don’t know how many times this year I’ve read people say, “who are all of these people voting for Donald Trump?” They obviously don’t know many people who grew up where I did, or where J.D. Vance did, or where Lore Wilbert did. Lore reflects in Christianity Today on J.D. Vance’s book Hillbilly Elegy and her own difficult late teenage years in rural New York. Her story, like Vance’s, is one of struggle, difficulty, and chaos. Yet, now she shows a beautiful ability to empathize with those who live in areas like the one she once did. “As someone who hasn’t lived in this context in over a decade and a half, my current sense of “normal” is different than my family’s normal, just as Americans living all across the country have “normals” that are different. There are deeply rooted reasons for these differences—some of them sociological, economic, spiritual, and moral—and it’s important to try and understand why.”

What Does a Community-Focused Church Look Like?
Let’s file this under the title, “a good listen.” I think churches have a great opportunity to reach out to their communities by demonstrating that they are there not only for the glory of God, but also for the greater good of the people who live there. Thom Rainer and Jonathan Howe discuss how churches can develop this kind of community focus. “Look for needs where your church can go to the community without asking for anything in return.

John MacArthur’s 9 Tips on Self-Discipline
Pastor John MacArthur has been a productive man over the last five decades. He has preached multiple times a week, making his way through the entire New Testament. He has also authored numerous books while building a large, healthy church. When a man like that talks about self-discipline, I want to listen. If you say you’re going to do something, do it—when you said you would do it and how you said you would do it. When you make commitments, see them through. That calls for the discipline to properly evaluate whether you have the time and capability to do something. And once you’ve made the commitment, self-discipline will enable you to keep it.

Coming Together in Polarizing Times, Is It Possible?
Scott Sauls shares the introduction from his book, Jesus Outside the Lines. We need to hear what he has to say because the followers of Jesus have to find a way to model a different kind of life than the vicious polarization we currently see everywhere in our culture. “Are you looking for a way forward in which more bridges are built and fewer are burned? Do you want to express your faith in ways that move beyond stereotypes and that are coherent, beautiful and true? Do you want to be known for the people, places, and things that you are for instead of the people, places, and things that you are against? Do you want to overcome the tension of wanting to be true to your beliefs and engage the culture? Are you ready to move away from polarizing conversations and towards Jesus and your neighbor?”

photo credit: old and new via photopin (license)

photo credit: old and new via photopin (license)

In June I wrote about eight passages of Scripture every Christian needs to commit to memory. The response to the post has been great and I have been encouraged at the hunger to memorize Scripture I have seen. At the end of the post I asked what passages people would add to the list. If you look back at the original post, every passage contains at least six verses and some close to twenty. My aim in that post was to point to longer foundational passages for Christians to commit to memory. Most of the feedback I received listed single verses, and realized that new Christians following my advice would miss many well-known verses that Christians usually memorize early in their Christian life.

In light of this, I put together a list of passages for young or new Christians to memorize so they would grow in their understanding of the character of God, the work of Jesus, salvation by faith alone, and the basics of the Christian life. We need to focus on these issues early in the Christian life because if we just start learning Scripture’s commands without understanding who God has revealed himself to be and the heart of the Christian message we will develop an unhealthy view of what it means to live as a Christian.

When memorizing these verses, work on learning them for the long haul and not just to check them off of a list. Learn them thoroughly and accurately, then develop a system for reviewing them so they stay fresh in your mind. As you learn and review these verses, meditate on them, take notes on them, and pray through them. You will find that committing Scripture to memory, studying it, meditating on it, and praying through it will give you aid in trial, temptation, discouragement, and evangelism opportunities. (If you need help memorizing Scripture and developing a system for review, I recommend the ScriptureTyper app. It has been a great aid to my Scripture memory over the last two years.)

If you are a new Christian, young Christian, or have never memorized Scripture, these are the first 15 verses and short passages I would commit to memory.

Genesis 1:1

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

The Bible’s first verse introduces us to the God who always has been and always will be. He created the heavens and the earth by the word of his power, which sets the stage for his creating humanity in his own image.

Exodus 34:6-7

“The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.’”

Moses asked to see the Lord, so the Lord placed Moses in the cleft of a rock and covered him with his hand while he passed by him in his glory. As he passed by Moses, he proclaimed these truths about himself. These verses form a central confession of the character of God and the biblical writers quote them in Numbers, Nehemiah, Psalms, Jeremiah, Joel, and Jonah.

Deuteronomy 6:4

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

Moses’ declaration teaches us about both the character and uniqueness of God. When we confess with these verses that God is one, we confess that he alone is God and there is no one like him. Then Moses shows the exclusive claim the covenant Lord has upon our heart and lives.

Psalm 119:11

“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

The longest chapter in the Bible proclaims the beauty of God’s word and the transformative role it plays in our lives. Psalm 119:11 reminds us that when we put God’s word in our hearts, it aids us in our war against indwelling sin.

Isaiah 53:6

”All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

To properly understand the message of the Bible we must understand the centrality of Jesus’ death on behalf of his people. Isaiah 53, written seven hundred years before Jesus’ birth, points forward to the day when the sins of wayward people would be placed on God’s faithful servant.

Matthew 28:18-20

”And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”

Matthew records these last words from Jesus. Speaking to his disciples before he ascended into heaven, Jesus commanded them to take the Gospel to every nation on earth, baptizing those who believe and teaching them to obey Jesus’ words. As we read, study, and memorize the Great Commission, we remember that we are called to join Jesus in his mission so that more people might become his disciples.

John 3:16

”For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

This stood as the best known Bible verse in our culture for many years, and rightfully so. Jesus, speaking about the time when he would be lifted up on the cross, tells Nicodemus that this happened because God in his love wanted to bring life to those who are perishing. This verse teaches us about the love of God, the deity of Jesus, and that we experience new life through faith alone.

John 14:6

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

Our culture often exhibits an allergy to Christianity’s exclusive truth claims, which means we need to be able to know, understand, and explain them. In this simple and straightforward text Jesus explains that he is the only way to the Father. Through his life, death, and resurrection, he makes the way for sinful people to know the eternal hope offered by our gracious God.

Romans 6:23

”For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

In this succinct statement the Apostle Paul reminds us that if we stand before God with only what we have done we will experience death. However, God holds something out to us we could never earn- eternal life. This verse exalts the grace of God and reminds us of the futility of trusting in our own goodness.

Romans 8:28

”And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Every Christian needs a deeply rooted trust in the promises of God for when the storms of life crash in. Romans 8:28 stands as a rock solid promise that God takes everything through which we walk and works it for our good. The Christian going through difficulties and trials can hold tightly to this verse and be reminded of the goodness and providence of God.

1 Corinthians 15:3-4

”For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”

These two verses proclaim the central truths of the Gospel message, so Christians must know, understand, and cling to them. Paul reminds us that Jesus died in our place bearing our sins, was buried in a tomb, and rose from the dead never to die again. The Christian never moves beyond this main thing to which the Scriptures testified from the beginning. Without the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we have no good news for sinful people.

2 Corinthians 5:21

”For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

At the heart of the Christian message stands a great exchange. Jesus took our sins upon himself and gives his perfect righteousness to us. For the person united to Christ by faith, we no longer stand before God dressed in the shreds of our own sins, but robed in the perfect life of Christ. This simple verse helps us understand, rejoice over, and explain this good news

Galatians 5:16

”But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

When we seek to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ we will grapple with the desires of our sinful flesh. Rather than giving into those desires or venturing into crippling legalism, Paul says we should let every step of our lives be in step with the Spirit so we will not gratify our flesh. This verse helps us to see the role of the Spirit in our lives and to know the freedom that comes from consciously walking by him each day.

Ephesians 2:8-10

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Verses about the free grace of God saturate this list because we never grow out of our need for it. Here Paul reminds us that our salvation is not through our good works, but by his grace through faith in Christ. When I learned these verses growing up we always stopped at verse 9, but that is to miss the wonderful news of how grace transforms us. We many not be saved by good works, but we are saved for good works. These verses help us grasp the connection between our free salvation and the transformation it effects in our lives.

Philippians 4:6-7

”Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Every Christian wrestles with difficulties, stresses, anxieties, and hurts. Here Paul instructs us to stop wallowing in them and to pray instead. This alone is good news because this means that God wants to hear where we are hurting and struggling. He invites us to bring our deepest fears and lay them on him. In exchange God gives us peace to guard us. Hiding these verses in our hearts will remind us to pray in every time of need.

The most difficult aspect of writing this post was not coming up with fifteen Bible verses for Christians to memorize, but narrowing down the list so that it would be helpful and unintimidating guide to those starting out in Scripture memory. If you were working with a new Christian, what are some passages you would advise them to commit to memory so they might grow as followers of Jesus?

Related Posts:
Eight Passages Every Christian Should Memorize

Why You Should Devote Yourself to Scripture Memory

For Further Reading:
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney

40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible by Robert Plummer

photo credit: DSC_8457 via photopin (license)

photo credit: DSC_8457 via photopin (license)

God tasks parents with the holy calling of raising our children, “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” In this our greatest task is to help them understand the Gospel so they might trust in Christ and be saved. The problem for parents is that we often have a difficult time discerning when our kids have truly come to Christ. Either we get excited that our kids are showing interest in the Gospel and pronounce them Christians too quickly or we are so afraid of them making a false profession of faith that we go a long time without treating them as a brother or sister in Christ.

As parents we do have some guidance in knowing if our children are truly in the faith. Everything that would be present in an adult’s conversion will be present in a child’s conversion, but it will show itself in a different manner. I was 19 when I came to Jesus, and was aware of my new life in Christ the moment it took place. At the same time we have stories like John Piper’s. He does not remember his conversion, but his mother was convinced he came to faith and he does not remember ever not believing since then.

We can never know beyond a shadow of a doubt if our child has actually trusted in Christ, but we can see evidences that point to a genuine conversion. Here are some questions we can ask as we attempt to discern whether or not our children have trusted in Christ.

Does Your Child Know He Needs a Savior?

Awareness of sin and the need for a savior is an absolute necessity in conversion. While a child will not have years of drunkenness or debauchery for which they should be ashamed, he will know he has sinned and needs to be forgiven. In Romans 2, Paul talks about the law being written on the heart of every person. We instinctively know we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

When your child tells you he wants to become a Christian or starts talking about baptism, ask him why he is thinking about this now. Draw out of him, in his words at his age level, whether he feels conviction for his sins and knows that he needs a Savior. Unless he is convinced of his sins, he cannot know that he has a problem from which he needs to be saved.

Does Your Child Understand Jesus’ Death and Resurrection?

If your child shows awareness of and conviction for sin, begin to talk to her about Jesus. You will not be looking for her to give a discourse on the hypostatic union or penal substitutionary atonement. Does she know Jesus is the son of God? Does she believe that he is real, and that he lived the perfect life we could never live?

Then you should move into a discussion about Jesus’ death and resurrection. Can she articulate the basic facts about Jesus’ death and resurrection? Again, you are not looking for a doctoral level treatise, but in her words can she tell you about what Jesus did for her. What you are looking for here is illumination. As she talks about Jesus, do you see an awareness that she understands and knows this at a heart level?

Does Your Child Believe She is Saved by Repentance and Faith?

The other night we read about the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment so she could be healed in our family devotion. Jesus told her that her faith made her well. I took that opportunity to talk to our daughters about salvation being by faith alone. Their Dad is a pastor, their Grandfather is a pastor, their Uncle is a pastor, and their Great-Grandfather was a pastor. They never remember a time when they were not gathering with the church each Sunday and never remember a time when they were not hearing the Gospel in family devotions and in discussions during everyday life, so I wanted to make sure they heard a clear reminder that none of these things make them a Christian.

When your child approaches you about becoming a Christian, you must make sure that she gets this. “For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves.” The Scripture’s testimony is clear, and while your child may not be able to give you an excursus on justification by faith alone and imputed righteousness, you do want her to evidence that she knows she must repent and trust in Jesus. Does she understand that her works or her baptism don’t make her a Christian, but that repentance and trust in Jesus do? Does she have childlike faith in Jesus Christ alone?

Is Your Child Showing Signs of New Life?

Seeing signs of the work of the Spirit in your child’s life is not as evident as it would be in an adult. Your six-year old is not going to have the same kind of testimony that a man with a notorious past would have, but his salvation is just a miraculous. If he has trusted in Jesus, he has been born again and the Holy Spirit indwells him. He will shows evidences of conversion.

If believers grow in conviction over our sins, compassion for other people, and display the fruit of the Spirit, then this will be present in your child’s life. It will be there in childlike form, but it will be there. You will also start to see the lights come on for him spiritually. He will start to understand more of God’s truth and demonstrate a greater awareness of God’s work in his life. As you observe his life, do you see signs of the Spirit’s work in him?

Is Your Child Free from External Pressures?

The invitation system, a pressure-packed VBS or kids’ camp, and friends getting baptized can start putting pressure on your child to make a profession of faith without actually understanding the Gospel. Often children want to know why they can’t take Communion, and hear the answer, “because you haven’t been baptized yet.” In their minds the solution seems simple, “then let me get baptized so I can take Communion.”

You can never know for certain that your child has pure motives in his desire to become to profess Christ, but you should examine to the best of your ability any outside forces that may be exerting pressure on him. Ask him what made him start thinking about this. It may have been a friend’s baptism, but what about the event made him start pondering it for himself? Communion may have sparked an interest in him, but does he just want to take the bread and juice, or did hearing the meaning of Communion draw him to Jesus? These are all factors for you to ask about, think through, and pray over.

Always Bring the Gospel to Your Children

Your child does not get a visible mark on her forehead or a stripe on her back when she comes to Jesus, so you have to talk, pray, and discern. Invite your pastor in to talk to your child and ask questions. He may be able to see and hear things you don’t.

Most of all though, keep putting the Gospel in front of your children. Talk about it in everyday life, in family devotions, and around the table after Sunday worship. Sing songs, pray over your kids, and repent to them when you have wronged them. God’s word never returns void, our labor in the Lord is not in vain, and in due time we will sow if we reap, so take every opportunity to tell and show your kids that Jesus is better than life.

Related Posts:
Teaching Proverbs to Your Children

The Joy and Pain of Consistent Parenting

For Further Reading:
Big Thoughts for Little Thinkers: The Gospel by Joey Allen

Your Child’s Profession of Faith by Dennis Gundersen

A Few Good Reads

August 3, 2016 — Leave a comment
photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

Christianity’s Manhood Problem
Most Christian congregations have more women in attendance than men. This problem is not new, but it’s causes are many and the cures are vexing. Art of Manliness is starting a series on this issue and offer some startling statistics about men in the church in their introductory post. “Why does a religion started by a carpenter and his twelve male comrades attract more women than men? Christian churches are led predominately by men (95% of Protestant senior pastors and 100% of Catholic clergy are male) and are criticized by feminists as bastions of male patriarchy, power, and privilege; so why is the laity paradoxically composed largely of women?”

4 Differences Between Small Towns and Big Cities
Recently many have pointed out the futility of imposing big city models of ministry on smaller towns. Aaron Morrow helps pastors understand some differences between small towns and big cities so that we can appropriately contextualize how we do ministry in those towns. “Not many people in small towns are atheists, Muslim, or new agers. Instead, small towns tend to be loaded with religious non-Christians. They may not go to church very often, but they generally believe that God exists and the Bible probably has something to say about him. Small towns tend to attract and retain people who are more traditional in their outlook on life compared to those in larger cities.”

Let’s Sing the Beauty of Confession
As I mentioned in my post yesterday, I love listening to rich, biblical Christian music when I’m walking through difficulty. I’m always on the lookout for something new, and was delighted today to see a new song written by D.A. Carson and composed and recorded by Sandra McCracken. The end result is beautiful. I was compelled by Don’s text because it’s a confessional and Psalm-like subject, and because confession isn’t en vogue in our contemporary church songs. I wonder if we often resist this subject in our corporate songs because, like our first parents in the Garden of Eden, we’re swamped with a low hum of guilt as we go about our everyday life.”

7 Ways to Stop Gossip
Gossip destroys people and the body of Christ. Ron Edmundson offers seven suggestions for shutting down gossip before a forest is engulfed by a small flame.“Gossip hurts innocent people who are caught in the middle, it exaggerates the situation, and it keeps the one who did wrong loaded with guilt and frustration, and from experiencing the fullness of God’s grace.”

Onward
As this year’s bizarre Presidential election continues its march towards November, Christians need to remember what can and cannot be accomplished through politics. Thankfully, Russell Moore points the way forward for us. We need to ensure we come through these elections being people of the Gospel and not just our political party. “As the culture changes all around us, it is no longer possible to pretend that we are a Moral Majority. That may be bad news for America, but it can be good news for the church. What’s needed now, in shifting times, is neither a doubling-down on the status quo nor a pullback into isolation. Instead, we need a church that speaks to social and political issues with a bigger vision in mind: that of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

photo credit: Duna / Dune via photopin (license)

photo credit: Duna / Dune via photopin (license)

Every Christian goes through phases where they feel like they are wandering through a spiritual desert. This kind of spiritual dry spell can come after walking through difficulties, spending time in half-heartedness or sin, or simply getting stuck in rut. We sing in worship and feel nothing. We read the Bible and stare blankly at the words. We pray and think we are talking to ourselves. The joy is not there, and it seems as if God is a thousand miles away.

To compound the problem, we are often embarrassed when we go through a dry spell because we see Christians around us who seem to be thriving. Their joy and evident growth stands in stark contrast the the spiritual dehydration in our souls. This leads us to feel guilty and causes us to wonder if there is something spiritually lacking within us. Questioning ourselves in this way then leads to an endless loop of guilt, shame, and bewilderment.

What can Christians walking through a spiritual dry spell do to begin to regain the joy of their walk with Christ?

Remember the Good News

When I was a young Christian, walking through a difficult time spiritually automatically made me question my salvation. I assumed that if I was an actual Christian my growth would be on a constant trajectory of growth, not knowing that sanctification usually looks like a man falling up an escalator.

We can become overly introspective when we walk through the spiritual wilderness. Instead of constantly looking within yourself and evaluating whether your feelings for God are strong enough, instead look to Jesus whose love for you never wavers. When we gaze at Christ, we remember that he lived the perfect life we could never live and then died in our place bearing our sins. We are right with God, not because of our good works, but through faith in Jesus alone. Because of Jesus, we have been reconciled to God, adopted by God, and given an inheritance by God. Look to this encouraging Gospel, for it will remind you of the depth of God’s love for you.

Change Up Your Bible Reading

We know reading God’s word is key for reigniting our spiritual lives, but struggle to know what to do when our Bible reading doesn’t seem to be transforming us. One thing you can try to do is to change how you normally read the Bible. I don’t mean that you need some hidden key to the Bible you didn’t know existed, but rather that you should try a different method for Bible reading. If you usually read several chapters a day, then maybe you should read fewer verses and drill deeper into them. If you usually read only a paragraph or a chapter, then maybe you need to set aside time to read longer portions of Scripture. Sometimes a simple thing like changing our pattern for reading the Bible can help us encounter its message with a renewed freshness.

Pray the Psalms

Our prayer life suffers the most during dry spells. We feel distant from God, so we don’t pray because we find it discouraging and this only leads to a further sense of alienation from God. When you struggle to pray, try praying through several Psalms to reinvigorate your time in prayer. These words inspired by the Holy Spirit give us a vocabulary for prayer and remind us that other people who know God walk through the same periods of darkness that we do. Meditate and pray through Psalm 42 or 63. Hear the longing in the Psalmist and pray it will renew that kind of thirst for God in you. Then pay attention to what the Psalmist says about God and remember his nearness to you.

Talk to a Friend

The Psalmists aren’t the only people to have walked through the desert. Your Christian friends know what it is like to be discouraged and distant from God. Sit down and talk with them about what you are walking through. Ask them how they worked through it. Even if they cannot offer actionable suggestions, it’s good for us to talk to another believer who can pray for us and encourage us in our struggles.

Read a Good Book

Good Christian books can offer much encouragement to the struggling Christian. A classic like Knowing God, just to give one example, will turn our focus to who God is and what it means for us to know and follow him. Packer writes in a way that is thoroughly biblical but also warmly devotional. This combination offers us great insight into the Scriptures while applying them into the deepest recesses of our hearts. The key is to find a book rooted in the Scriptures and the truths of the Gospel. A book focused on our efforts and self-improvement may give us a temporary shot in the arm, but will do little to deepen our walk with the Lord in the long term.

Listen to a Sermon

In addition to hearing the word of God in the local church to which you belong, search out a reliable pastor and listen to a sermon or two during the week. While a podcast can never be an acceptable substitute for our own local fellowship, sometimes we need to hear the word of God from a different voice. The sheer volume of men whose sermons are available can be overwhelming, so I will share the ones that help me. The first person I turn to when I need to hear God’s word during the week is Ray Ortlund at Immanuel Church in Nashville. His preaching is biblical, warm, challenging, and encouraging. Rarely have I heard him that it was no a balm to my soul. I have also often benefitted from the preaching of Matt Chandler, Eric Mason, Alistair Begg, and John MacArthur. (Shameless plug: you can hear my sermons at Chelsea Village Baptist Church here.)

Sing to the Lord

Have you ever been reading the Psalms and noticed the word “selah?” This term is a musical notation, and it is in your Bible because the Psalms were originally meant to be sung. Something about singing truth to the Lord encourages the soul and draws us near to him. Singing songs and hymns to the Lord as part of your devotions or in the car on the way to the work can stir your affections for him. Lately I have been listening to the Indelible Grace Hymn Sing and find many these songs true to Scripture and Christian experience. They enliven my soul and give voice to what is happening in my heart. After getting over the initial embarrassment of this practice, you will find it is good for your soul.

What about you? What practices have helped you when you were struggling?

Related Posts:
When You Struggle to Pray

Can I Be Certain that I am a Christian?

For Further Reading:
When I Don’t Desire God by John Piper

 

A Few Good Reads

July 28, 2016 — Leave a comment
photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

Doctrine and Devotion
Joe Thorn and Jimmy Fowler launched a new podcast in which they will be talking about topics related to Christian doctrine and experience. I think you’ll find they will both challenge and encourage you. “In episode 01 we talk through the issue of ‘backsliding.’ This was our first run, so the sound is pretty bad, but still worth checking out.”

You Have Enough Time to Read the Bible
I hear it often, “I don’t have enough time to read the Bible.” Ryan Higginbottom thinks you do have plenty of time in which to read your Bible and that the issue is one of importance and priority. “There are exceptional life situations that leave us too busy to study the Bible. Illness, intense family duties, and extraordinary job demands come up. For most of us, these are the exception and not the rule.”

Why We Don’t Punish Our Kids
Parents often struggle with the best way to correct our children when they are wrong and why we should do so. Sara Wallace shows why even the nomenclature we use to refer to this correction affects our view of it. In this helpful post she shows we why discipline our children instead of punishing them. “Though discipline and punishment may look and feel similar in many ways, they are radically different. Punishment seeks retribution; discipline seeks restoration. Punishment looks to the law; discipline looks to grace.”

Christians Must Embrace the Role of Villain
It’s been both interesting and disturbing to see the changing way in which Christians are viewed in American culture. Think of The New York Times caustic obituary for Timothy Lahaye for one small example of the antipathy towards us in mainstream culture. Some believers think the answer is to seek to reestablish ourselves in places of power and others argue we can change minds by capitulating on the message we share. Aaron Earls argues that we should embrace the role of cultural villain because of Scripture’s teaching on the way society will view faithful followers of Jesus. “Instead of getting our way and living how we want to live, we are asked to pick up our cross and die to ourselves. Following Christ means you should be interdependent with others. You should use your gifts to serve the church, working with others who are doing the same.”

Knowing God
Christian author J.I. Packer recently turned 90, and this led to several wonderful tributes to him being published. If you have not read his classic book, Knowing God, I highly encourage you to do so. This book is the best combination I have ever seen of serious biblical scholarship and devotional warmth.