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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Selected Psalms: Psalm 16

It isn’t surprising that with each passing year the Christmas season becomes more and more secularized. It seems that in American culture, Christmas has been Christ-less for many years.
What concerns me this week is something that I think many believers haven’t considered: Thanksgiving is just as God-less as Christmas is Christ-less.

Thanksgiving is a national holiday almost universally celebrated by Americans. I watch the Cowboys play every year and the announcers will sometimes talk about the things for which they are thankful. What is striking is that I never hear anyone saying to whom they are thankful. It is as if thankfulness is an innate character trait without reference to anyone outside of self.

Lost is the image of God as the giver of all good things. Actually, lost is the image of God at all. In an increasingly atheistic culture, I have to wonder how long Thanksgiving will last. For those who do not believe in God, what basis is there for being thankful? Without a sovereign Creator, any good thing that I have is mine due solely to chance. Eventually, any notion of thankfulness should be replaced by the recognition of how fortunate I am. When that simple logic catches up to our godless society, don’t be surprised to see Thanksgiving Day replaced by Luckyfeeling Day.
I would love to see the Church as zealous to put God back into Thanksgiving as she has been to put Christ back into Christmas.

As I read Psalm 16 this morning, I saw in v2 a thankfulness that should be characteristic of every breath I take. I saw a heart that recognized the most fundamental blessing God has given to man – the most profound gift He has given to me: Himself.

I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”

Outside of God, I have no good thing. Though troubles befall me, though I lose everything, as long as I still have Him, I’ve lost nothing.

The writer understands that God Himself is his greatest blessing:

5 The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. 6 The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

These verses contain words (portion, lot, lines, inheritance) that reference the parceling of the land to the different tribes of Israel when they came into Canaan. The writer expresses not merely a satisfaction with the land he received. Rather, he recognizes that the LORD is his beautiful inheritance. The LORD Himself is the blessing.

Vv7-8 show the Psalmist’s dependence upon the Lord and the safety of His presence:

7 I bless the LORD who gives me counsel: in the night also my heart instructs me. 8 I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

The writer intentionally fastens himself to the Lord. “…my heart instructs me” is a reference to meditation on the things of the Lord. “I have set the LORD always before me” indicates the purposeful setting of his attention on God.

I think if there is a lack of thankfulness to the Lord for the Lord, it is related to a failure to adopt this kind of intentionality in our devotional lives. The Lord rewards those who diligently seek Him. How does He reward them? By letting them find Him. Our communion with the Lord, and therefore our delight in the Lord, will be directly proportional to the fervor with which we pursue Him.

That delight is reflected in v9-11:

9 Therefore, my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. 10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. 11 You make me to know the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

In your presence there is fullness of joy… Only the heart that regards God as the greatest of all gifts can understand those words. And only the heart that pursues Him can regard Him as the greatest of all gifts.

The antidote to a God-less Thanksgiving is the cultivation of a heart that desires Him above all things. I challenge you this Thanksgiving to meditate on God as the giver of all good things and as the greatest of all good gifts. Let’s give thanks to God for the gift of Himself, so that Thanksgiving once again becomes a Christian holiday.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Family Worship

I have had several folks ask me recently about family worship, so I’d like to give you some pointers and suggest some resources for you.

First, let me say that it is the responsibility of the husband/father to make sure that the family is worshiping together in the home. Family worship is one of the things that the elders of PBF expect of those who have joined our fellowship. We have been charged with making disciples and a huge part of that is making sure that those under our charge are living lives of devotion, not just Sundays of devotion.

God has made men to be the pastors of their homes. I’ll make this case more strongly when we get to Ephesians 5-6, but I would like to point out now what Paul says about a man’s responsibility to his family.

Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

A husband is to do everything he can to promote his wife’s holiness. In my experience, believing wives as a general rule are very eager to be led spiritually by their husbands. However, the husbands simply will not do it. Look again at the first description in v25 of how Christ loved the church: He gave Himself up for her. Give yourselves up, men. Lead your wives and they will follow. I’ve found in my own marriage that the most tangible and meaningful way that I can lead my wife spiritually is by leading my family in worship in our home.

But we, as men, also have been given a mandate to lead our children:

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

Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Bringing up our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord is not a passive thing. We do it actively by intentionally leading them to and through the word of God.

How do you train up a child in the way that he should go? It is foolish to think that we do it by simply setting a good example. That is necessary, but too passive for a man of God. Rather, we actively train up our sons and daughters by the Scriptures (2Tim 3:16-17).

Nothing will teach your children that God is the Lord of your home and of your lives like regular family worship. When they see Dad worshiping God, they see that God is a God who commands the worship of all. I truly believe that God has built into the hearts of believing women and children the need to be led spiritually by their husbands and fathers.

A great resource that makes a much more thorough biblical and historical argument for family worship is a little book by Don Whitney, Senior Associate Dean for the School of Theology at Southern Seminary. The book is entitled, “Family Worship: In the Bible, In History, and in Your Home.” I have a few copies I can give to whoever wants one, and I can get more from the seminary, as well. The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood website also has a very good article on the biblical case for family worship.

All that being said, I want to give you a simple outline for family worship. Commit it to memory: sing, read, pray. That’s family worship. One of the big keys to being consistent with this is to keep it simple and easy. No preparation. How do we do that?

1. Sing. We Birdwells are hymn people – we found this website and downloaded the lyrics. I made copies for the kids. If you don't like hymns, I'm sure you can find any number of alternatives on the net. I made several 'hymnals' by stapling together a few favorites. If your kids can read, great. If not, you'll be amazed at how quickly they learn them just by hearing. Even Wyatt, who doesn't read yet, likes to be holding the music. To mix it up a little, sometimes we'll take several verses and do one fast, the next slow, the next soft, and the next really loud. They love it.

Whether you do hymns or more contemporary music, make sure the words mean things. We should be using the theology of the songs to teach our children as they sing them to the Lord. “Yes, Lord, Yes, Lord, Yes, Yes, Lord” is a great sentiment, but not real chunky. Give them meat.

2. Read. If your kids are really little (2-5yrs), the "Big Picture Story Bible" is great. It does a good job of telling the significance of each story to the whole picture of the Bible. This part of worship is as easy as reading a story to your kids. In fact, it is reading a story to your kids.

We have a wide range of ages in our house, so rather than doing the “Big Picture Story Bible” to please our youngest, we raise the bar a little so that the older kids stay with us. You’d be surprised how much the littler ones pick up even when you think it’s over their heads.

If your kids are older (4-10yrs), there are several things you can do. Most of the time, our family just reads straight from the Bible. We use the ESV, and I paraphrase as we go so that they can better understand what’s going on. Right now we are reading through Exodus – a great book for kids because there are so many rich events. If you want to read through a NT book, Mark is great because it is simple and has more narrative than the other gospels.

If you find that the ESV is too hard for the kids to understand, a great bible for kids in this age range is the “A Faith To Grow On Bible” edited by John MacArthur. It uses the very simple International Children’s Bible translation and includes study notes from MacArthur.

For this age you can supplement your bible reading with a few really good books. Also, from John MacArthur is a systematic theology for kids, also entitled “A Faith To Grow On”. We recently picked this one up and the kids love it. You may not even want to use this during family worship, but it is full of activities and word puzzles that the kids will enjoy on their own time.

Another book for ages 4-8 is “Leading Little Ones to God”.

Or if you want to go with a good old-fashioned Bible Story book, a good one is “The Child’s Story Bible” by Catherine Vos.

One thing that the kids LOVE to do is act out the story that we just read. It really helps them to remember the story. Plus, its fun.

3. Pray. Keep it brief but pray for real things; their concerns and yours. Ask what they'd like to pray about and if they'd like to pray. I think it is important to pray about grown-up things too. You are teaching your kids to trust God when they hear you expressing your dependence on Him for the monthly bills, healing for a sickness going around, or comfort for the disappointment you just experienced. Each component of family worship teaches your children something and prayer is no exception.

Extras. We do a catechism with the kids. You can find it here. This is great because it teaches theology in a very simple question/answer format. You ask the questions; the kids supply the answers. Don't worry about all the Scripture references. Those are for your benefit - it is not essential for the kids to know those. The main thing is to teach them the answers. Go over the first one a few times and they'll have it. Ask them the first question a couple of times a day whenever you think about it - in the car, while they are playing, or at the dinner table. Do that for a week then go to the next question.

Each time you ask the questions, make sure you do them in order. The questions build on one another, as you will see.

Our kids really enjoy the catechism and it is teaching them so much. How many children in the evangelical church can tell you what a soul is or what atonement means? Do this catechism and your kids will be among the few. These things fill their minds with truth and give them a proper view of God.

Memorizing Scripture as a family is another great way to grow together. I personally feel it is best to memorize whole chapters (rather than one verse here and one verse there) so that the kids see that the Bible is not a collection of random thoughts but an extended message from Genesis to Revelation. By this, you will be teaching them to respect the context. Some suggested chapters with which to start: Hebrews 1, Psalm 1, Psalm 34, Psalm 139. The Psalms are great for kids. Just do one verse a week or one every two weeks. Say the verse one phrase at a time and have the family repeat after you. You can go through it several times and then try to say it all together. Then go on to the second verse the next week, still taking time to review past verses.

I want to re-emphasize the importance of keeping it simple. You can take 5 minutes, 15 minutes, 30 minutes – whatever you can manage given the ages of your kids. But there is no preparation necessary as long as you have a few good resources. Don’t be intimidated. It is as easy as it can be.

Husbands and wives can listen to downloaded sermons together. Shelby and I enjoy that on occasion. We have also found that John MacArthur’s commentaries are very devotional in nature and can be read as a couple.

It is the responsibility of the parents to look after the spiritual wellbeing of their children. It is the husband’s responsibility to look after the spiritual wellbeing of his wife. But ladies, if your husband will not fulfill his responsibility, you can lead your children in worship while still submitting to your husband's authority. You are not dishonoring him by doing this. Your children must be trained up in the way that they should go. If your husband will not do this, you can do it. Continue to pray that the Lord will grab your husband and raise him up to be a Godly husband.

Men, I exhort you to take the lead on this. You will find that this to be a great blessing to you and your families.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Developing a Biblical View of Emotions

Emotions are something that every person deals with. Emotions drive how we respond to most situations in our lives. As Christians how can wrong thinking, and wrong emotions be changed to glorify God.

Emotions are God given; God Himself had emotions as we see throughout scriptures (Isaiah 42:1; Exodus 32:10, Mark 14:34-36; Luke 10:41). God's emotions flow from a holy and righteous nature and never keeps Him from his purposes.

Man was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), and so we have emotions. But because man is sinful, these emotions no longer are guided by holiness and truth. It is only as we are conformed to His image that our emotions can be guided with truth.

There are many passages in scripture where God commands us to experience emotions. We are to have contentment (Hebrews 13:5), to have a forgiving heart (Matthew 18: 21-22), to love one another (1 John 4:9-11), to serve (Matthew 25:35-36), to be thankful (Ephesians 5:20), and to be humble (Philippians 2:3).

Many things can influence our emotions such as influences over life, interpretations that were taught or misunderstood. Also desires or wants, fears and experiences change and impact emotions. Many people feel compelled to honor these emotions when they have them. Through faith, God's grace, and our choice to root our minds in God's word will be the only way to renew our minds and emotions (Romans 12:2). The renewed mind will be one that is controlled by the Word of God. We will begin to put-off and put-on right thinking, which will lead to Godly emotions.

As a person looks to God's Word to define life, and who he is in Christ, he will find more effective ways to respond to his emotions. Again if our emotions are wrong, they must be changed through God's truths, and then the Holy Spirit will enable us to respond in a way that would bring Glory to God. Emotions can be changed by learning what is true, and then obeying God. Changing our thinking and then obeying will give us peace (Philippians 4:7-9). By obeying God we will also get joy (Psalms 1; Psalms 19:7-14; Psalms 119:1-8). Temptations will be less (Ephesians 6:10-12). We will bear fruit (John 15:1-8). The Word will convict, and show thoughts and attitudes (Hebrews 4:12). The Word will teach us all we need for godliness (2 Timothy 3:16-17). He will teach us through His Word (John 14:25-26). While everyday living is full of circumstances that produce emotions. We should never be driven by our emotions, but by what we know to be true in God's Word.