Sunday, January 29, 2017

Highlights 1.29.2017

Hebrews 4:14 - 16 (HCSB)

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens—Jesus the Son of God—let us hold fast to the confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Highlights 1.26.2017

Matthew 22:34-40

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Psalm 117

Praise the Lord, all nations!
     Extol him, all peoples!
For great is his steadfast love toward us,
     and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.
Praise the Lord!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Highlights 1.25.2017

Matthew 20:25-28

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Psalms 119:176

I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant,
for I do not forget your commandments.

Matthew 18:10-14

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Highlights 1.24.2017

Matthew 13:44 

"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field."

Psalm 119:162 

I rejoice at your word
like one who finds great spoil.

Matthew 19:23-30

23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, x“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world,2 when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold3 and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

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See the advert below. If supplies are already out and you haven't already, sign up for their email list. They frequently have great sales on good books and Bibles.

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Monday, January 23, 2017

Highlights 1.23.2017

Matthew 18:1-6

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Psalm 119:160

The sum of your word is truth,
and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Family Worship: Selecting a Text

Let's say that you want to begin leading your family in consistent worship in the home. You recognize your responsibility to be the spiritual leader in the home. You want your children to know the Lord and His Word. You feel like church once a week is not a sufficient spiritual diet for your family. You are convinced that family worship should be a priority. Now what? Where do you begin? 

Perhaps you go online. You go to Amazon or and search something like "family devotions". What will you find? Options, hundreds of options, too many options. You also have to consider if this is from a reliable source. Is this a writer that you can trust and how much is this going to benefit your family? Is this just a collection of sentimental stories or will it actually help your family understand God's Word? 

I won't say there is necessarily anything wrong with using devotional materials written by others. But I will say that the best way to bring your children closer to the Lord and His Word, is to simply read them His Word. Read it to them. Read it aloud. Let them hear God speak. Why do I say this? Because as the Second Helvetic Confession states so clearly, "For God himself spoke to the fathers, prophets, apostles, and still speaks to us through the Holy Scriptures" (emphasis mine). This is simply a doctrinal conviction borne out of submission to Scripture. How does the Bible describe it's own effectiveness? 

"All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

The Bible teaches. The Bible reproves and corrects. The Bible trains in righteousness. All the things you want to see happen in the life of your family are found in the Book. Take it up and read. 

This still leaves the question of what to read. You don't want to do the proverbial flip and dip where you let the Bible fall open where it may and read a couple of verses. How can you best serve your family through the reading of God's Word as a part of family worship? Here are five tips for selecting a text for family worship.

  1. Pick a translation that works for your family. Don't restrict your family to one translation necessarily. You may have a preferred translation for reading and study. Or maybe your church has a common translation for their pew Bible. Those are good, but pick something that is good for your family. If your children are older, go for a more literal translation like the ESV or NASB. If they are a little younger go for something like the NIV, NET, or HCSB. These are all good translations. Pick one that is good for your family. That said, set the bar high. Don't read them a children's Bible which is a paraphrase. Read them the actual words of God. They pick up more than you might think. 
  2. Start with narrative and work up to didactic. With kids it is good to spend the majority of your reading time in a narrative text. Pick something that tells a story. Something that has characters, a plot line, tension, and resolution. Go back to the beginning with the book of Genesis. Recount the great working of the Holy Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles. Or maybe take a desert tour in the book of Exodus. Start with narrative and you will hold your family's attention as they listen to the greatest story ever told; the story of God's redemptive work. As your kids grow older you can begin incorporating didactic texts; that is, texts that teach, books like the epistles. Having read through the historical accounts of God's redemptive work, they will be better suited to understand the theological implications and applications of that great redemption. 
  3. Alternate between Old  Testament and New Testament. Your goal is to expose your children to the breadth and depth of God's word. Read through a book in the Pentateuch. Then, read through one of the gospels. As you alternate between the two testaments, you maintain a healthy variety. At the same time, you also begin to show your family the vast panorama of Scripture. 
  4. Read a Psalm. Or two. After reading a chapter of narrative, end your reading with a psalm. Your kids might not grasp every poetic nuance. They might not identify with the voice of the psalmist. But they will begin to hear the glory of biblical praise to a wondrous God. You might have to read slowly and explain a few words, but it is worth it. 
  5. Read a proverb. Perhaps last night you read a psalm after your main narrative chapter. This evening, read a pithy wisdom statement from the book of Proverbs. That is all you need, one proverb, one verse. Then explain it to them. You can make a big impact in your children's lives by simply explaining in bite-size pieces how to skillfully live the godly life. 

Selecting a text is the first and foundational step to beginning family worship. The benefit of selecting Scripture is you can read, pray, and trust God to do His work in the hearts of your family. 

How about you? Do you have anything you have found helpful for selecting a text? Let me know in the comments. And come back next time as I discuss how to read.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Highlights 1.20.2017

Matthew 15:10-20

And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”

Psalms 119:145-152

With my whole heart I cry; answer me, O Lord!
     I will keep your statutes.
I call to you; save me,
     that I may observe your testimonies.
I rise before dawn and cry for help;
     I hope in your words.
My eyes are awake before the watches of the night,
     that I may meditate on your promise.
Hear my voice according to your steadfast love;
     O Lord, according to your justice give me life.
They draw near who persecute me with evil purpose;
     they are far from your law.
But you are near, O Lord,
     and all your commandments are true.
Long have I known from your testimonies
     that you have founded them forever.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Family Worship: An Introduction

Last year my dad gave each of his children a copy of Don Whitney's Family Worship. It sat on my shelf for a few months and then made its way into my reading stack. 

Whitney has done the church a service in penning this little book. And little it is. At a mere 80 pages of 5x7 goodness, you should be able to read it through in one sitting. Some books of similar dimension are better suited to skimming. But Family Worship gave me cause to stop and evaluate.

This wasn't the first time that I had thought about family worship. We had made attempts in the past but consistency was elusive. Now, as I looked at my own spiritual leadership of my family I was convicted. Part of my problem was having unrealistic expectations. I kind of had this idea in my mind of a perfect "family worship" service. Imagine a mini church service. I also had set unrealistic expectations for what my kids could and could not handle. In one sense, they could handle more than I thought (more on that to come). Finally, I wasn't operating from conviction. In the past, I thought family worship was optional, a kind of add-on for super godly families. Whitney helped me see that consistent family worship should be the norm for all Christian families in the church.

The other motivator for me was that as a pastor, I want to be able to model godly leadership in the home. Family worship is an essential part of leadership in the home. I had some work to do.

The good news is for the last several months we have had regular, simple, uplifting family worship. And I would urge you to look at beginning this vital practice yourself. To that end I want to share some of the things I have learned about leading family worship and offer some practical advice on how you can do the same.

A good place to start would be picking up Donald Whitney's Family Worship. You can find it here. Tomorrow, I will look at selecting a text for family worship. Stay tuned.

Have any thoughts or tips you have found helpful for leading family worship? Let me know in the comments.

Highlights 1.19.2017

Matthew 13:51-52

“Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

Psalms 119:130

The unfolding of your words gives light;
it imparts understanding to the simple.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Necessity of Silence

Silence is golden, or so the saying goes. You can say that, but silence is so much more.

Perhaps for some silence is unbearable. The idea of sitting still and alone in a quiet room unsettles them. This can be true for different reasons. Some are extroverts and they thrive on constant interaction with others. Social media, they are there. Facebook Live, doubly so. Meeting friends for drinks after work, they are all about that. But plant them alone on a park bench at night and they fidget. They find fulfillment in the presence of others.

For others, the difficulty arises from the reckoning that silence brings to them. Silence forces them to confront their fears, failures, or fractured past. They run from silence to escape themselves.

Neither one is necessarily wrong. The world needs extroverts. People who bring relationship and care to others. People who teach their opposites how to look outside themselves and value their fellow image bearers. At other times, life can be so overwhelming that people can only hang on by surrounding themselves with activity and conversation.

But silence is valuable. It is golden. For some, you could say silence is necessary, as necessary as breathing. Loners, introverts, solitary types; for these silence is the time when they find peace, tap creativity, think and pray for others, recharge from a draining day, and prepare to meet the next.

The difficulty is that many times, relational types, people who gain energy from talking, relating, and busying themselves; they can't understand how vital silence is. They can't understand the reason you seclude yourself in a quiet side of the house, why you silently leave a dinner party and go for a walk, why you stay up after all have gone to bed, or why the thought of going to a holiday party makes you grit your teeth.

Obviously this is very generalized. People don't fit neatly into these categories. They fall somewhere in between. But if I may, a few thoughts to help you understand us silence imbibers and how you can love us.

1) Realize that our desire for solitude doesn't equal dislike. Just because we want to be alone doesn't mean we dislike you. Often, we like being around you a lot. The reason we get away for a time is so that we can get emotionally recharged to come back and love you some more. Look at the bigger picture of our relationship and realize that over time we have been very faithful as friends, and will be in the future.

2) Realize that we love you. The need for silence does not mean that we don't need to be in relationship with you. It just means that we relate differently than you do. Now, we must choose to actively demonstrate love to you in the way you best receive it. So if that means talking, we will talk. If that means listening, we will listen. If that means spending an evening with you and other friends, we are there. It is just that those things drain us in a  certain sense. Take a moment to consider that doing those things that you take for granted are at times a conscious act of love on our part.

3) Realize that we need silence. Just as we choose to love you at times by meeting up, visiting, talking on the phone, or having you over; realize that sometimes you can love us by letting us get away and enjoy silence. If you see us sitting alone, don't feel like you always have to come make conversation. If you invite us over and we decline, don't press too hard; we might have hit our limit and need some time to breathe a little. Realize that for some of us, a day of being around and interacting with other people leaves us feeling like a sponge in Death Valley. We need some time to soak in silence.

4) Realize that God made both of us how we are. Both extroverts and introverts are made in God's image. Both of us need the other. Both of us can sin in our differences. And both of us can glorify God in our differences. So help us check our need for silence against what God commands. Keep us accountable to faithfully love others more than ourselves. Don't let us stay in solitary too long. And we will do the same for you. Be ready for us to encourage you to slow down and think about something in silence for a little while. Be willing to go on a quiet walk with us. Be willing to get alone with God for a day once in a while. Learn to value the necessity of silence. Chances are, you will be glad you did.

Highlights 1.18.2017

Matthew 11:25-30

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Psalm 119:136

My eyes shed streams of tears,
    because people do not keep your law.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Highlights 1.17.2017

Psalm 119

I hate the double-minded,
but I love your law.
You are my hiding place and my shield;
I hope in your word.
Depart from me, you evildoers,
that I may keep the commandments of my God.
Uphold me according to your promise, that I may live,
and let me not be put to shame in my hope!
Hold me up, that I may be safe
and have regard for your statutes continually!
You spurn all who go astray from your statutes,
for their cunning is in vain.
All the wicked of the earth you discard like dross,
therefore I love your testimonies.
My flesh trembles for fear of you,
and I am afraid of your judgments.

Matthew 10:26-33

“So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven."

Monday, January 16, 2017

Leadership Lessons: Stonewall Jackson

As someone who has been called to minister in the local church, leadership is something I think about often. As a pastor, I am called to lead the congregation entrusted to my care. This includes setting direction for the church, directing the execution of the church's mission, modeling a godly life, and developing other leaders to continue the work of the ministry. Leadership is something I regularly study, read, think, and write about (so far that is just scribbles in my notebook). Leadership is something that I am passionate about. Leadership matters.

And the Scriptures have a lot to say about leadership. The Bible directs, instructs, and informs leaders. It also provides powerful models of leadership , both failed and successful.

But sometimes it is also helpful to draw leadership principles from other great men of the past. Great men of history provide a unique opportunity for studying leadership, both good and bad. We can look back and see where leaders came from, what molded them, what difficulties they faced, and how they led in the face of momentous challenges. We can look back and see where their decisions led. We can evaluate their accomplishments and failures and consider how we should lead in light of this.

Recently, I read Robert E. Lee: A Biography by Emory M. Thomas. Much could be said about Lee's leadership. But I was especially  intrigued to read about the bravery, conviction, and leadership of another great Confederate; perhaps the greatest subordinate to Lee, and in many ways Lee's superior, none other than Stonewall Jackson.

With my interest in Jackson piqued, I was excited to find a newer biography on Stonewall at my local public library, Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson by S.C. Gwynne.

Image result for Rebel Yell, S.C. Gwynne

I started reading this biography last week and it has been hard to put down. Gwynne is a superb biographer and talented writer. He makes the days surrounding the Civil War come alive.

As I started reading about Jackson being thrust into leadership from relative anonymity, I found myself noting pages repeatedly (don't worry, in Evernote not on the pages). Jackson is a powerful example of great leadership. As Gwynne walks you through the dusty lanes of northern Virginia and the fiery baptism of those first battles, Jackson's leadership marches to the forefront.

While he was not perfect - and he would agree with that statement - Jackson was truly a great leader among men. He offers valuable lessons in leadership, timeless principles that need to be applied in our tumultuous times as well. So as I read Rebel Yell, I plan to post some brief summaries of leadership principles drawn from the life of this greatest of Southerners. I hope you will profit from it as much as I.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Enemy inside the Walls

Any man worth his salt will think often about protecting what is valuable to him. Money in the bank, documents in the cloud, guns in the safe; we protect what we value.  We take proactive steps to ensure the safety of what we treasure. When it comes to our flesh and blood, this caution levels up big time.

No man in his right mind would ever allow danger to come at his wife and kids. So we act different than the fairer sex. We keep our head on a swivel when out in public, looking for danger close. We check the locks before we go to bed at night. We put up walls around our homes, install alarms, and sleep with our boomstick close to hand.  Double-aught baby. We exercise great caution to avoid danger, but prepare to handle it should it ever get close.  We protect what we love.

In Colossians 3:19, Paul reminds men to apply this protective mindset to the person they should love most–their wife. But this isn’t protection from danger outside the walls. It is protecting love from the enemy inside the walls, the enemy of bitterness.

“Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them.”

We get the love part. At least we know we are supposed to love our wives like Christ loves the Church. But how often do we think about bitterness toward our wives?

Bitterness is the dried out and twisted heart. It’s the remnants from the slow-burn of anger that smolders on the inside. It is under the singed heap of unmet expectations, irritations, frustrations, and anger that we choose to direct toward the one who is to instead be a well-spring of life. Bitterness is the silent killer that wraps the piano cord of selfishness around your neck and twists without mercy until your marriage lies lifeless on the floor. Bitterness is the enemy within.

Ironically, bitterness is the enemy that we let slip inside. We choose to let it in. We let it happen. Hence the command to not let bitterness poison the love of a husband for his wife.

So how do we guard against bitterness? How do we kill this silent but powerful enemy? We go back to the beginning and find the answer in one word, love. If we make it our business to love our wives, bitterness will be kept on the outside. Love is the wall that keeps bitterness out. And if bitterness ever finds its way inside, love is the weapon we choose to take up that will slay this mortal enemy. Christ centered, Spirit empowered love. 

So men, protect your love toward your wife. Watch your heart toward her. Remember, that bitterness is the enemy that will do great harm against your wife. Stay on guard for bitterness. Check that the doors to your heart are locked against it. Watch out for it. Be ready to shoot it down if it creeps in. Protect what you value most. Protect your love for your wife.