Wednesday, December 28, 2016

53 Days


That's the number of players NFL teams are allowed to have on their active roster. 

It is also a pivotal chapter in the book of Isaiah. 

And most relevant to this post, it is the number of Sundays for 2017. 

In the providence of God, we not only have 53 Sundays this year, but both the 1st and the last day of 2017 are on a Sunday. This hasn't happened since 2006 and won't happen again until 2023. 

What might you do with 53 Sundays? 

How will you begin and end 2017?

I consider it a special grace that the Lord has given us for this coming year to begin it gathering with His people in corporate worship. I wonder if you will take this opportunity to be intentional with the blessing God has given us. 

You could commit right now at the end of 2016, to take full advantage of each Sunday God graces you with in 2017. All 53 of them. That you will use each of these gifts to not forsake the assembling of God's people but rather to encourage other Believers and worship the Lord of heaven and earth at your local church. Every. Single. Sunday. 

It's possible in God's providence that you will be sick or out of town some time in 2017. It's even possible that the Lord will come back or that we might not get to see all 53 Sundays of 2017. But God's prerogatives aside, will you resolve to make it your prerogative to be wholly committed to the local church this coming year? 

Christ loves His church. He died for His church. And He is using His church to further His glory among the nations. Isn't the local church the place our Christian hearts long to be in tangible fellowship with? 

What an opportunity we have this Sunday to begin on the proverbial right foot!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

22 Thoughts on Bible Reading

I think the New Year is a great time to contemplate how one will improve their Bible intake and so I want to offer some thoughts that will hopefully be helpful as you consider this matter of great importance! These are things I've picked up on and am still growing in:

1. There are certain principles taught in Scripture about Bible intake but there is no cookie cutter approach. In other words, don't feel guilty for not doing it exactly like someone else. 

2. With that being said, you should be reading the Bible more than you currently are. (Probably)

3. I think every Believer should read through the whole bible at least once every few years. Once a year is more doable than you think. It would take all of 15 minutes a day. But, there are also good reasons to space that further out too. See below. 

4. Multiple readings of one book is highly beneficial. So, even if you do a read the Bible in a year plan, leave time to read certain books multiple times (as in say 15-20x at least) throughout the year. If you can't read the whole bible in a year AND books multiple times, then opt for reading books multiple times and read the whole bible every 2 years (or 18 months or even 3 years). 

5. New Testament books are helpful for reading multiple times. Or even sections of the New Testament like the Sermon on the Mount. 

6. Don't neglect the Old Testament. 

7. Learn the history of the Old Testament. The Books aren't in chronological order. That's a huge key in unlocking your understanding of it!

8. Meditate more. This is slowing down and thinking more focused thoughts about a shorter passage of Scripture. Find a section within your daily readings. 

9. Link your meditations. In other words, as you think about these individual passages, what does that tell you more about the Book or Books as a whole? 

10. Mark in your Bible. Seriously. Do it. If you don't feel comfortable marking in the Bible you have, buy one specifically for that purpose. It isn't 'holier' to not mark in a Bible. It's extremely beneficial. Underline. Draw boxes. Make squiggly lines. Circle stuff. Write cross references. Write thoughts. Use multiple colors. Write prayers. 

11. Journal your thoughts. 

12. I can't emphasize enough how much reading the whole bible through has helped me. It connects themes, shows God's greatness, reveals Truth. Commit to doing it in a year or year and a half. After you've gone through once you can spread that our longer if you'd like. But commit to getting through it once at a decent pace. 

13. Read the Bible every day. We have apps on our phones. Commit yourself to not going a day without reading a portion of God's Word. Even if you've neglected to read it during the day, read a Psalm before you go to bed. 

14. Start your day with reading. Maybe that doesn't work for some people but I think it's the best approach for most. Again, there's no cookie cutter approach.

15. Read the Bible with your family. Take a short passage that you've read and read it to your kids. Offer a few thoughts or praises to God. 

16. Listen to the Bible. Again, we have apps. Use an app while mowing or driving or jogging. 

17. Remember what you've read. Memorize verses. Understand where things are in the Bible so you can go back to them during a discussion with someone. 

18. Read the Bible more than you currently are! (See point 2)

19. Reading the Bible is chiefly about God showing us who He is that we might adore Him more. We are reading for transformation. 

20. Pray through portions of Scripture. Use God's own words to speak to Him. 

21. Understand the theme of the gospel that runs from Genesis to Revelation. Every passage either shows our need for Jesus or anticipates Jesus or shows what Jesus has done or glories in Jesus. 

22. Thank God today for the tremendous blessing we have in owning a copy of the Scriptures in our own language. And take advantage of this! (Luke 12:48)

Thursday, December 15, 2016

A Christmas Card from Jonah

In 2010, something like 1.5 billion Christmas Cards were sent in the United States. If you're anything like the Nelsons, not many of those were yours! It seems like every year we are determined to send out cards and we fall short, every. single. time! For what it's worth, we've actually ordered and have in hand family photo cards this year! We are going to do it! (*nervous confidence*)

So, Christmas Cards are just a way to show you care, keep in touch, and maybe even remind folks about the true importance of Christmas. As our local church body is currently walking through the book of Jonah, I thought, as we came to Jonah 1:17, it would be interesting to contemplate what Jonah might include on a Christmas Card.

And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
Now, I realize there aren't any post offices in the belly of a whale. And it's not my desire to twist any passage of Scripture. But, let's pretend for a moment that Jonah was to send us a Christmas Card this year. Based on this text, here are 4 things I think he would want us to know:


I. Remembers Runaways

Jonah had physically removed Himself from God’s place of blessing. He fled Israel and headed to Tarshish. In the midst of a terrible storm, Jonah was fast asleep. He had done all he could to run away from and forget about God.

But God hadn’t forgotten about Jonah. He appointed a great fish...

The idea Scripture is communicating to us here is that God is Sovereign. Sovereign over the wind and waves and fish and every circumstance of Jonah’s and our life. Jonah thought his running from God meant that God would let him go. But for the Believer, this is never true is it? God will not let us go. God will not forget us.

God Remembers Runaways. – The Lord appointed a great fish! This fish didn't just happen to be there that day to swallow Jonah. There's no such thing as luck or chance. God appointed the fish because God remembered Jonah.

Physically, maybe you are in the right place today - at work or home or whatever location the Lord would have you to be. But I wonder if you could say the same spiritually? Disobedience to God is running away even if you haven’t physically yet boarded a ship to Tarshish.

• Is your life characterized by pursuing obedience to Christ and submitting to His will for your life?
• Are you listening and reading and meditating on His Word?
• Are you walking with Him in the fullness of joy?

Maybe your response is: "Well, no I’m not, but God doesn’t really care about me. I’m just one person. Surely there are bigger issues in the world." Ah, my brother or sister, God remembered Jonah. And He remembers you. He cares about you AND your holiness in Him.

When we stop our running we often think it’s a long way back to God. But that’s not true. The truth is, when we finally turn around we see that though we’ve run from Him, He’s pursued us the whole time, just like He pursued Jonah. He will not forget His own.

Let me make another note here, and this isn't specifically tied to the text, but it does have to do with this time of year: Maybe you aren’t running away but you still feel as though God has forgotten you.
Maybe you have lost someone recently or even a while ago and this time of year brings a lot of pain and sadness for you and you think: Does God still care? Can I gently remind you today that He does? He does care. He has not forgotten you. And more than that, He can identify with your pain. Trust Him.

Now on to our second reminder from Jonah. God:

II. Rescues Resisters

I think that the book of Jonah, and particularly this part of Jonah has been misrepresented at times. It is most definitely true that God was teaching Jonah some things here, but I do not see this fish as a tool of judgment but rather an instrument of mercy.

The fish isn’t a ‘gotcha!’ moment but part of a bigger picture of what God was doing in Jonah’s life. Sometimes we think of God as 'up there' with a lightning bolt ready to strike us when we mess up. And I think the way the book of Jonah is portrayed sometimes plays into that. But consider this:

Killing Jonah would have been easy. Let him drown. But instead, God appoints a great fish to save him from the depths because he was rescuing and restoring Jonah. He cared too much for Jonah to leave him in the state that he was.

Jonah had resisted God’s call to go to Nineveh, he resigned his prophetic office, and left town. Surely he was now beyond the hope of rescue. But just as the saltwater went up his nostrils and as he flailed for his life in that great big ocean, Jonah, the resister, was rescued.

You see, Jonah had not fallen into God’s ocean of condemnation, but rather His Ocean of Mercy. Instead of letting Jonah sink like a rock to the depths of the sea and meet his demise, God sovereignly appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah so he would be rescued. There are two things I think we can see from this:

1. God is a God of means – 

God can work by Himself. I mean He spoke and the Universe was created. But often, God chooses to work through various means. Here, it is a great fish (and I don't think over speculating on the species of fish or whether it was a whale or not is all that important).

In Scripture, the Lord uses kings, and peasants, animals, and forces of nature, plants and plagues to bring about His sovereign purposes. Go read Isaiah 46:8-11.

And God isn’t just ‘foreseeing’ what will happen and then responding. Rather, He has decreed and declared, appointed, and ordained in such a way that He will bring about His purposes through various means. This brings me to my second observation:

2. God Rescues in Unexpected Ways –

Sometimes as Believers we wonder: Why is this happening to me? Sometimes we don’t have an answer. It’s not because we’ve done anything wrong, it’s simply part of life in a fallen world. However, we can be confident of this: That nothing is meaningless and that God is lovingly and intentionally using all circumstances in our life to conform us into the image of Christ (Romans 8:28). We can look at the big picture of our life and say that everything God allows and everything God directly brings in, is serving a higher purpose even if it’s painful at times. He is sovereign, and this is good news for His people. God is proactively using all things in a Believer’s life to conform us to Christ.

Now, in Jonah’s case, Jonah had fled. He had deliberately disobeyed God’s call and ran the other direction. And God got His attention, didn’t He? Our God is a rescuing God. Perhaps Jonah wouldn't have signed up for being swallowed by a fish, but it was through this fish that he was rescued. Sometimes uncomfortable and even painful circumstances arise in our life and once we've gone through them we realize, it was actually God rescuing us, even if it was in an unexpected way or a way that we might not would have necessarily 'volunteered' for. 

Maybe you think “This time, I’ve gone too far and God is ready to just give up on me.” Not true. God is ready to rescue you. When God brings conviction or situations into your life to get your attention and expose your sin, it’s not because He hates you. One of the chief means God uses in our lives in exposing sin is His written Word. We need to read the word, meditate on the word, and hear the word preached because God uses it in our lives to show us areas we need to change. Of course, this isn't the only means God uses. A healthier understanding of providence would help us see that God is always at work in our life and He is using a variety of things to show us His glory and to bring us back to Him, conforming us evermore into the image of Jesus. And God does this because He loves you. He loves you enough not to leave you where you are. He loves you enough not to let His own keep resisting and running away.

This doesn’t mean God is ok with your sin. Don’t think that. And it doesn’t mean God won’t go to great lengths in your life to prune you and shape you into the person He would have you be. In fact, the greatest length He went to was to send His own Son in our likeness. This leads us to our next point. God:

III. Redeems Rebels – 

Even in the belly of the fish Jonah knew that salvation belongs to the Lord! (2:9) Yet, at that point in redemptive history, he had no way of knowing just how glorious the salvation of mankind would be when it was realized in the person and work of Christ.

And what’s beautiful about Jonah’s luxurious 3 day and 3 night paid stay at the fish hotel is that Jesus actually says it’s a type of Him. 

But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Jonah left Israel fleeing God and eventually found Himself in the belly of a fish. But the Son of God left the glories of heaven in the perfect will of God. He took on Human flesh and entered into our turf.

As we celebrate this time of year, He was born of the Virgin Mary. He lived obediently before God the Father and then He was crucified on the Cross for sinners, bearing God’s punishment for those who repent and believe. And then, He was laid in a tomb.

Jonah emerged from the belly of the fish preaching truth and the Ninevites believed.

But Someone greater than Jonah has come! God Himself has come to us, took on flesh, conquered the sting of death. He entered the tomb but He did not stay there! Truth incarnate rose again victorious over sin, death, and hell. Deliverance from our circumstances isn't our greatest need. Mankind’s greatest need is redemption from the wrath of God rightly due our sin.

Because God is holy, we must give account for our sin. But, for all who look to Christ in faith, God has accomplished our redemption through the Cross. Jesus has borne the wrath of God for us so that we can find reconciliation with God in Him. God Redeems Rebels.

We are undeserving. But God has made provision for our sin by sending His own sin to take it upon Himself so that by faith in Christ, we are clothed in His righteousness and have perfect standing before God.

Christmas is a wonderful time to remind us of this great truth! And Jonah's stay in the belly of the fish is a giant arrow pointing us to this gospel. 

And finally, here's the last note in Jonah's Christmas Card. God:

IV. Receives Repenters

I think this is a beautiful reminder from Jonah and it’s a beautiful time of year to be reminded about it. The foundation of our reconciliation with God is the person and work of Christ. The means by which this is applied to us is by the gift of faith - And repentance is always a part of faith.

Jonah cried out to the Lord in faith, and God answered him. And I think we see evidence of repentance in Jonah.  Repentance is not merely saying you’re sorry. Repentance is an attitude of the heart. It is owning your sin and even accepting the consequences of it. (See for example, Jonah 1:12).

I think we confuse feeling sorrow for sin with repentance. Feeling guilty for sin is part of being made in the image of God. We see this a lot in our culture today. So many people are fighting for acceptance of their sinful behavior because when left to themselves, they know they are guilty.

But, sorrow for sin doesn’t necessarily mean repentance. True repentance is understanding our sin as an offense against a holy God and rightly deserving of His eternal judgment. It is seeing God’s way as right and your way as wrong. It is then turning from sin and seeking to walk in newness of life.

And did you know that repentance isn’t just for unbelievers? The life of a Believer is to be a lifestyle of repentance. To walk in newness of life. Christians are habitual repenters.

Believer, is there an area you’ve been disobedient to God or running from God or trying to ignore God? Have you been negligent of His Word, His ways, or His will? Will you repent? Will you confess your sin to God and turn from it? Why would you hold on to sin? Why would you not trust the goodness of God? Don’t you see His mercy?

Can I assure you of something? God is faithful and just to forgive you because it’s not based on how good do it, but based on the finished work of Christ. And will you believe this morning that God receives repenters?

A person who stubbornly refuses to repent of known sin is not the characteristic of a Christian. Believer, don’t hold on to your sin. Repent. And find that God is ready and willing to receive you again.

God received Jonah didn't he? In fact, God gives him a second chance as we see in Chapter 3 where the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time. Oh, how glorious is God's grace to His children! I'm thankful for God's patience and mercy, aren't you? Oh soul! Be confident today that God receives repenters. Whatever you may be holding onto, turn from it, and turn to Jesus once again.

Now, perchance (except no such thing as chance, right?), an unbeliever is reading this post. Let me speak to you for a moment:

I believe you’ve read the gospel here and seen the character of God in this text today. Do you know that the very smallest of your sins are worth an eternity in hell? God is Holy and will not compromise His holiness for you.

However, He has displayed the full measure of His Justice on Calvary. By means of the cross you can find forgiveness.

• Will you repent of your sin and place your faith in Christ?
• Will you see God’s ocean of mercy today and dive in?
• Will you see the futility of rebellion against God?
• Will you see that forgiveness is full and free for those who will lay hold of it by faith?
• Will you come to Christ this Christmas season as your only suitable and all sufficient Savior?

Jonah has given us much to consider in his little Christmas reminder. Take a few moments today and consider how God might have you respond to His Word.

This comes from a sermon preached at Perryville Second Baptist Church on 12/11/16. You can listen to the message by clicking here.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Better than an Audible Voice

I'm not exactly sure my motivations but when I was a child I remember praying one time and asking God to be a Prophet. I'm sure the allure of God audibly speaking to me was compelling to me as a young boy.

Right now I'm reading through the Book of Ezekiel. Like the other books in both the major and minor prophets there is an oft repeated phrase I come across in my reading: "The word of the LORD came..."

Amazing isn't it? God spoke to Ezekiel His special message for His people. 

I think many in the church are infatuated with the idea of God's audible voice coming to them. I remember another time when I was a teenager pleading with God to speak audibly. I don't think the motivations for this are necessarily always wrong. Those who love God want to hear Him. God would you just speak to me and show me what to do!? But let's step back from that for a moment and consider the bigger picture. 

You and I have more access to the word of the LORD than any prophet ever did. Yup. It's true. This is why we must understand the nature of Scripture. 

God has given us a divinely breathed book made up of 66 books that is His very word. The audible voice of God doesn't carry greater weight, sufficiency, or authority than the written word of God. God is the author of both. In the former days He chose to speak audibly to His prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2). So, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Micah, et al, had access to what God had spoken in the past, and they had access to what God was speaking to them then. But they did not have access to the whole word of the Lord. They didn't have access to a completed Bible. They didn't have access to the gospel of Matthew or the epistle to the Romans or 3 John. 

You see, beloved, we have a completed canon of Scripture. We have the entirety of God's word for His people literally at our finger tips. More than a desire to hear God speak audibly, we should have a desire to consume all that He has already spoken to us through the authors of the Bible. I promise you, you're not ready for more revelation! Nor is there any need for more revelation because what we have is wholly sufficient. 

Imagine what it would be like if God opened up the heavens right now and spoke to you! Well, that's exactly what He has done in the Bible. The Triune God of the universe has given us His Word. He has spoken to us. Don't take this wonderful blessing lightly! 

One final note before closing. I think it's unhelpful at best and in actuality downright dangerous to claim God audibly speaks to you. When you hear this or that teacher make that claim, run away. We don't need God to speak to us audibly because He's given us something better! His voice in written word.  For one, an audible voice can't be authenticated. How do I know it was God who said that? Secondly, this is often used as a trump card. "God told me so who are you to question it!"  But even more serious, this is a direct attack on the sufficiency of Scripture. It is saying there is something lacking in the Bible that you need for your growth and relationship with the Lord. Not true. I'll end with a quote from John Piper:

"It is a great wonder that God still speaks today through the Bible with greater force and greater glory and greater assurance and greater sweetness and greater hope and greater guidance and greater transforming power and greater Christ-exalting truth than can be heard through any voice in any human soul on the planet from outside the Bible."

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

When Santa Went to Jail

The back of this ornament you see pictured above says 1982, but the story begins over 30 years earlier.

It is initialed by my late paternal grandmother with her classic insignia of a crossing M and N. The M stands for Margie, but sometimes she said it stood for ‘Make-do’. But for us, the M always stood for Meemaw.

In the late 1940s my grandfather was in the United States Air Force and stationed in Japan along with my grandmother and two aunts. My dad and uncle had not yet been born. Being a young mom with two young daughters, my grandmother got creative one Christmas to keep her children occupied. She decided she would make Christmas Cookies.

These turned out to not just be any Christmas cookies, but with the help of a special cookie cutter she had found, she decided to make Santa Cookies.

Sort of like the guy who created Velcro accidently stumbling on such a great invention while hunting, my grandmother stumbled upon a wonderful Christmas tradition that has now been in our family nearly 70 years. What started out as a way to help little girls stay busy during Christmas, turned into one of my favorite family Christmas traditions.

Each year she would make these cookies and mail them to friends and family. When we came along she would patiently work with us each Christmas season to make these cookies and decorate them correctly. In 2004 when my wife and I were dating, she came over to help us decorate cookies. My siblings and I were aghast when we saw the future Mrs. Nelson pick up one of our beloved Santa Cookies and begin decorating it like a gingerbread man! Mistake! There's a certain way to decorate these cookies! That's where the ornament above comes in handy.

She had these ornaments cut out of wood and then decorated them just like the cookies and gave them out to family members. Not only does it help us get the pattern of decorating the cookie right, but it also reminds me of great memories with my grandmother. The ornament above has been around longer than I have.

It’s something I will forever cherish.

Well, a few years ago when my children were old enough to make cookies we decided we wanted to keep the tradition alive. At the same time, we also wanted to think of a way to clearly connect it to Christ and to focus on Him during all of our holiday festivities. It's not that we are 'anti-Santa', we just wanted another way to use a great tradition to talk with our kids about Jesus.

Turns out, this wasn’t hard to do, because Santa Claus has a real name: Saint Nicholas.

In 325 A.D., Saint Nicholas was a Pastor (Bishop) in Myra, which is in Modern Day Turkey. Now, St. Nick was a generous Pastor, and there are stories of his kindness and even his affinity for giving generous gifts in secret (see the connection?)… But I want to focus about the time jolly ole St. Nick lost his cool.

In 325 A.D. there was a church council in a place called Nicaea. Church councils were places where a lot of Pastors got together to talk about important subjects and seek to know what Scripture taught on them. This particular council was called because there was a man by the name of Arius who had begun teaching that Jesus was not equal with God the Father.

Similar to what the Jehovah(less) Witnesses now teach (there is nothing new under the sun!), Arius was saying that Jesus is important but He is not co-equal with God the Father. Arius famously preached "There was a time when the Son was not!", thus denying the Son's eternality, and equality with God.

Arius had begun to amass a decent following and at the council of Nicaea he went on and on about Jesus not being fully divine.

Maybe it's because his stockings weren't on quite right, or maybe he hadn't had a chance to smoke that fine Christmas pipe yet that day, but our boy Nicholas was fed up. More accurately it was because Nicholas loved the Jesus of the Bible that he got up from his seat at Nicaea, walked across the room and...

Well, he certainly didn't give Arius a cup of cheer, glass of egg nog, or plate of cookies.

Instead, he slapped that heretic right across the face. Backhand? Front hand? I'm not sure. But the place was shocked. So shocked, that like the Miracle on 34th Street, but for a much nobler reason, Santa Claus was thrown into jail. Whatsmore, he was stripped of his bishopric!

That would be a lump of coal difficult to swallow, but thankfully, the story doesn’t end there.

Nicholas was eventually freed from jail and because of the work of faithful men like Nicholas and others like Athanasius, the heretic Arius was eventually silenced. And not because one side 'won' and the other 'lost' but because it is impossible for both sides to be faithful to Scripture. Why? Because Scripture is clear on this issue.

You see, we cannot have Christmas without the Jesus of the Bible. And the Jesus of the Bible is fully God who became fully man, to rescue us from our sins. If Jesus is not God, then we are still lost in our sins, hopeless and helpless. But the good news is, as Scripture affirms, Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature (Hebrews 1:3). He is the First and the Last (Revelation 1:17). He is the I AM (John 8:58).

Jesus is God incarnate.

God became man so that He could give His body and blood on the cross to secure the way of salvation for all who repent of their sin and believe this good news. Nicholas was willing to go to jail for this truth. Many others have given their very lives for it.

This truth is what we celebrate this Christmas: God with us (Isaiah 7:14).

Whether or not your family does 'Santa Claus' is entirely up to you. But I wonder if you might take the opportunity this year to share with your children and others the story of the real St. Nick? While I don't condone slapping heretics, I do encourage thinking rightly about Jesus! And God has used many men in church history, including Nicholas Bishop of Myra, to remind us of the importance of the truth of God's incarnation.

St. Nicholas and others composed a Creed at Nicaea that captures the Bible’s teaching on Jesus. There was actually another Nicene Council in 381 in which the Nicene Creed was somewhat edited to help accurately reflect Scripture's teaching on the Trinity. I would like to conclude this blog with a portion of this creed:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.

Through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.

On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

4 Ways our Christmas Tree Points to Jesus

I know that when one puts up their Christmas tree can be a source of controversy. Not like there are other sorts of more important controversies out there or anything. 

A lot of people are in the "Not till after Thanksgiving!" camp and I get that. I think it's out of a desire to protect Christmas from over commercialization. That's a noble desire indeed. 

For our family however, we don't feel like one month is long enough. In the first place, it's usually a bit of an effort to put everything up, so why go through that just to pull it down in 4 weeks!? But secondly, we like the tradition of being able to enjoy all that our Christmas tree stands for during this time of year. So, this leads to us usually putting our tree up in early November. 

And when we do there are four things we like to draw attention to when we put up our tree. I share these things not to try and say you have to do it this way but hopefully to give you some ideas on intentionality in your Christmas celebration. 

I love being intentional about making Christmas point to Christ. What an astounding truth that God most high clothes Himself in human flesh to dwell among us! So, here are 4 things we focus on when putting up our tree:

1. The Tree that we put up to celebrate Christ's birth also reminds us of Christ's death 

"He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed." 1 Peter 2:24

The most wonderful news about God becoming man is that He came to do something about our sin problem. And this was accomplished though Christ's death on a cross made of wood. We use the Christmas tree to help us remember this. 

2. The Tree is an Evergreen. Jesus is eternal and so is His kingdom. 

There have been various reasons given for the origin of the 'Christmas Tree' but we use the fact that it is an evergreen to help us think rightly about Jesus' eternality and the everlastingness of His rule and reign. 

3. Jesus is the light of the world and Believers are called to be lights too. 

It's a beautiful sight to see your Christmas tree all lit up. Our children especially are captivated by it. We use it to remind them (and us) that Christmas is about hope. A light in the darkness. The days are shorter this time of year and physical darkness seems to be winning. But just as the lights on the tree shed more light in our living room, so to does Jesus shed light in this spiritually dark world. And as His followers our light should point to Him. 

4. God is faithful 

We don't do a 'themed' tree. Rather, every year we buy an ornament or a few and write the date on them. This is something I had when I was a child. So, we have a tree with ornaments that are nearly 30 years old. There's often fun conversation and memories as we put up ornaments together. We remember where we got them and the story behind them. 

What we've told our kids about this process is that this is a reminder of God's faithfulness to our family over the years. How He has blessed us and shown His kindness to us year after year.

Nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to celebrate Christmas. But I do think it's a wonderful time to focus on God's incarnation and to share in the blessings, fun, and traditions of family. The point of this post is to help us think intentionally about pointing our children to Jesus through the holidays. Don't let the world take this celebration from us! Don't let the false god of materialism be who is really worshiped this time of year! 

Christ is King. O come let us adore Him.  

8 Quick Thoughts on the Election

I went to bed with the media saying Donald Trump had a 95%+ chance of winning the electoral college. Now that I've slept on it and seen the results here a just a few quick thoughts. There's certainly more I could say but I think I'll leave it at this for now:

1. Didn't see that coming.

2. I am grateful to God to not have an anti-marriage, anti-baby, anti-religious freedom, anti-constitution political party representing the office of president of the United States

3. Donald Trump is our new president. I commit to pray for him.

4. The longer God maintains religious freedom in this country the higher amount of responsibility we will be judged with. Let that sink in with the amount of time you spend with your Bible and how committed you are in your local church. We have no excuses. The more God blesses our nation economically the higher expectation the church has to be sacrificial in our giving. How will you use these blessings to commit to the advancement of God's kingdom?

5. Throughout the campaign I have not personally been able to trust Trump. And even now I'm more excited about who lost than who won. And I'm not sure about what the future holds for our country or how Trump will follow through on some of his campaign promises. I hope we will have Supreme Court justices committed to biblical principles. I hope our freedoms will remain in tact. I hate abortion. Trump was pro choice for a long time. I hope his views have really changed. See #3.

6. Some people are saying this is God's judgment on America. Others are saying this is a signal of hope that our Nation isn't as far gone as we thought. At this point, it's hard for me to fully agree with either spectrum. Time will tell.

7. I hope that a Trump presidency does not cause you to be complacent about the state of the Church or the state of our nation. Our great hope is heart change wrought by the Holy Spirit through the gospel. This is still much needed.

8. I am grateful for our country and all God has done in and through it. Let's pray for our governmental leaders and use the time God has given us here to strive for the advancement of the gospel throughout this nation and to the uttermost parts of the earth. Let's continue to pray for revival in our nation and Reformation in our churches.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Things that Won't Fix America

Like many Americans, I am grieved about where we are as a country. I think we have drifted pretty far from what the Founders intended for our great Nation and more concerning, I see some of the very freedoms we've enjoyed for so long being increasingly infringed upon. 

With that being said, I think it's helpful to remember that as a Believer, my first allegiance is not to a flag but to the King of kings. This is not to suggest that the two of necessity mutually exclude one another, but it is to emphasize that One must always take priority over the other. When we think about situations, and elections, and policies, and various movements in our culture, we must think as a Christian first. This doesn't always come naturally nor is it always easy to do unless we are intentional about it. 

I thank God that I am an American. I am the grandson of a USAF Colonel who fought countless missions in both Korea and Vietnam. I am grateful for his service to our country. I am grateful for the freedoms we enjoy and for the the principles on which this country was founded: All men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

But all of that, absolutely all of it, is subservient to my allegiance to King Jesus. This means I see all of what we have in America as a means to a greater end. Ultimately that end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. This is not to say that the above Americanisms conflict with Christianity but that they fall underneath it in the sense that the ultimate purpose of our freedoms as Americans is to glorify God. 

Maybe we could put it like this: the freedoms we enjoy as Americans should be used to live for the glory of God. To make Christ known to our countrymen. To happily enjoy Christ's rule and reign in our lives as we see Him ever widening the borders of His Kingdom around us. America is not nor never has been a theocracy. But it has, in the providence of God, served as channel in which the gospel has impacted not just innumerable people here but also to the far reaches of the earth. 

One thing that is for sure is that no matter what happens to our country the Kingdom of God will continue to advance and the Church will endure. 

With that being said, it is my great hope that our country will endure for the glory of God. And I think that the way our country will endure (if it is to endure) will be through the change of hearts wrought through the heralding of the gospel. This doesn't mean we aren't concerned about culture, politics, the downcast, etc. In fact, I'd say we are even more concerned about those things because we are concerned about them rightly, through the lens of the gospel. 

So, we live, we vote, we stand up for those who can't stand up for themselves, and all the while we live for the glory of God which includes sharing the good news of the life, death, burial, resurrection, and reign of King Jesus. And our great hope for the Nation lies in that. Not that the gospel changes a 'Nation' but that it does change the individuals who comprise the Nation thus 'fixing' a Nation. 

I think this is necessary to work through because I've seen so many posts the last several months that seem to at the very least imply that our hope lies somewhere else. Like if we can just get this one thing or that one thing or these several things together then that will fix America. While I maintain these things (depending on what issue has you riled up!) may be important, I also maintain that the gospel is not dependent on any of them in order to thrive and bring about the change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit. 

In fact, sometimes God uses the very opposite of what we think is necessary in order to bring about the change we want to see. 

So, with all of that in mind let's survey some popular topics today, none of which are the 'key' to fixing our country. 

Here we go:

1. Trump being elected president

I do think it's morally permissible to vote for Donald Trump. But I've actually seen people say Believers are morally obligated to vote for Trump. What's more, I've actually seen posts and conversations that have basically said Donald Trump is the key to making our nation great again. 

Say what?

Look, I don't think voting for Clinton is a viable option.  But for Believers to tell other Believers it is their obligation to vote Trump rather than not voting or voting third party is not biblically defensible. Furthermore, to bolster this pressure by insinuating that the hope of our nation rests in Trump being elected president is actually not Christian thinking.

If Hillary is prevented from becoming president or if Trump does become president, neither of those scenarios fix the country. Nor do they put us on a better trajectory without heart change. 

2. People standing for the National Anthem

I think it's disrespectful not to stand for the National Anthem. I don't think it's a time for protest. I am grateful for those who've defended our country. 

But I've seen lots of conversations of people acting as if we could just create laws or boycotts or make enough noise about people standing during the National Anthem that will fix our country. 

Laws won't change hearts.

Should people stand for the anthem? Yes. If they all stood tomorrow are we a better country? I don't think so. The root of the problem is not fixed. 

3. Black, blue, red, yellow, white lives Matters campaigns

Not sure what to add here. I appreciate some of the awareness that has been brought about. But even if everyone tomorrow agreed with whichever campaign you're involved in, that actually doesn't fix our issues does it? 
4. Having conservative justices on the Supreme Court 

Do I think this is important? You bet. Do I bemoan what would happen with more liberal judges on the Supreme Court? Certainly. 

But there is a difference in supporting and hoping for these things and in idolizing them. If tomorrow all 9 justices on the Supreme Court were conservative, our country would still be in trouble. 

If we could strike down the Obergefell and Roe v. Wade decisions, two decisions that are an abomination to God and an unconstitutional overreach of the Court, it still wouldn't change the hearts of the people. 

5. Maintaining our Freedoms 

The right to preach. The right to bear arms. The right to raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. 

These are all important. They are dear to our hearts. But even if those are not maintained in our country the end is not inevitable, for the church has endured, and even thrived in more hostile situations. 

My point in writing all of this is not to say that we shouldn't be involved in politics and policies. We definitely should be. We should vote Christian principles and seek to establish policies that are consistent with biblical teaching because it is when we align with Scripture that we will see an environment most conducive to true human flourishing. 

But in all of this Christ must have the preeminence. Take for example those who rightly hate abortion but wrongly take the route of physically attacking abortion doctors and workers. Is Christ honored through these sort of actions? No. And nor is He honored when Believers pin all of our hope on the outcome of an election, cultural movement, or policy change. It is good and right to use all of the influence we have to instill godly principles into our society. It is not right to do this through means of physical coercion. Nor is it right to act as though if an election, movement, or policy doesn't go the way we think it should that all hope is lost. Certainly not! King Jesus is on His throne. And He bows to no one. Not even human free will. He is ordering His universe by the word of His power. And all things will happen as He decrees. So, mankind is responsible for the choices we make, but ultimately Jesus wins. Therefore, as we strive for the advancement of the gospel together, our greatest hope lies in this truth. Even what feels like defeats here can and will be used by God for the glory of His great name and the good of His people. 

Again, don't sit back in your lawn chair and watch America burn. Be involved as you are able locally and regionally and even nationally to effect change. But let the driving motivation in what you do not merely be a 'better future' for your kids in terms of the American dream. No, let the driving force in all that you do be the glory of God and the hopes of seeing His glory furthered through the conversion sinners both here and abroad. 

Preach. Pray. Participate in the local church. Prioritize Scripture reading. And remember that the great problem of all Americans is not something outside them. It's not that they aren't educated enough or don't have the right opportunities in life. The greatest problem Americans have is a heart that rejects and rebels against the God who made them. And this won't be fixed by an external issue. It won't be fixed by a President. It won't be fixed by the Supreme Court. It will only be fixed by the gospel. And when professing Believers make these other things a priority over the gospel, even going so far as to be more passionate about voting than attending church, we actually become part of the problem instead of part of the solution. Ultimately, the gospel will not spread through policy but through people. We've got to share it. We've got to live out what Christ has worked in us. We've got to herald the news of the coming judgement but the free offer of pardon that exists now for all who repent and believe the gospel. 

No doubt part of living for Jesus is living for Him in all realms, including how we vote. But brothers and sisters, our great hope is not in the outcome our vote. It is in the One who casts the deciding Ballot. The King eternal. 

No doubt it's late at the time of this publication. So I do hope I've made sense! To God be the glory... 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

13 Strategies for Sharing the Gospel the next 75 Days

birthday, christmas, gift

75 days puts us somewhere close to January 10 which is probably post 'holiday season' for most everyone. I know posts like this come out this time of year, but what I hope to do is to give you some practical ideas for using this season to your advantage for sharing the gospel. Certainly, some of these strategies could and should be used at other times of the year, but this seems to be a good time to employ them as even the lost world appears more naturally inclined to giving and receiving. Let's use this to our advantage on being intentional for getting the message of Christ out there.

1. Buy some tracts (here and here are some suggestions).

2. Give out tracts on Halloween. Maybe you don't 'celebrate' Halloween, and I am totally fine with that. But also, you have a night where perhaps lots of people will be coming to you. Load 'em up with some candy and a gospel tract!

3. Buy someone's meal and leave them a card and a tract. You have to plan for this but it's just October, so set a little money back the next two months. In December pick out a person or a couple and anonymously buy their meal. Then ask the waitress to simply give them a card. In the card wish them a Merry Christmas and either include a tract or share the gospel yourself inside.

4. Leave a generous tip for your waitress or barber or the mailman or any other service industry and include a tract with it. DO NOT USE A TRACT IN LIEU OF A TIP. Seriously. Instead, be generous and include the tract. You can also include your contact or your church's contact information on the tract so they could follow up with you or you could (and should) make a point to follow-up with them.

5. Bake your neighbors some cookies, or make them a holiday gift basket, or buy them a holiday candle. Or if you live on a street with lots of neighbors make them all a little bag of cookies. This is a great way to meet them if you don't know them and a way to make contact with them if you've been out of touch for a while. Don't waste the opportunity! Either plan to talk with them about the gospel or give them a tract that includes your contact information on it.

6. Have a men's football gathering. Use a Saturday, or Monday Night, or Thursday Night to get together to watch the game. Let folks know that at halftime you plan to share a short devotional. Use this time to share the gospel!

7. Offer your services to rake leaves or set up Christmas decorations. You'd be surprised at how many elderly people cannot do these things on their own but don't know who to ask (or may be embarrassed to ask). Do you have an elderly neighbor you could help? Serve them as an opportunity to share the gospel. It might be a great way to build a lasting relationship just by offering to help them.

8. Take your family or church or small group caroling. And you guessed it - Bring some tracts!

9. Ask people if you can share with them what you believe about Christmas. This time of year affords many conversations where people say things like "I'm so ready for Christmas to be over!" Or bemoan the busyness and commercialism. When people say something like that, be intentional about asking if you can share about what you believe Christmas is. And then share the good news of God incarnate!

10. Use Thanksgiving to share the gospel with unsaved family members. Say "Hey, before we pray over the meal I just want to mention a word about Jesus..." Take 60 seconds to share the gospel.

11. Use the New Year. Be intentional about asking your coworkers, neighbors, friends, and family about how you can pray for them in 2017. And use that conversation as a launching point to talking about Christ.

12. Always carry the tracts with you the next two months. You can say "I'd like to give you this. It talks about the true meaning of Christmas." You can give one to your boss, your stylist, your hunting buddies, or the greeter at Walmart. Literally anyone you come into contact with! Again, if appropriate, leave your or your church's contact info on them.

13. Read the Bible with some people. You could ask coworkers or friends or family members if they'd like to go through the Christmas story this year. Get together with them over lunch once a week during December or another time. They may say no. But I guarantee you it won't happen if you don't ask! Wouldn't it be wonderful to read the Bible with those who need to know Jesus?

This is about being intentional. Be sure and follow up with people when possible. Also, don't just hand a tract and run! If possible, share yourself verbally and let the tract just be a tool they can look at later. This requires being versed in the gospel ourselves.

I love this time of year. But it's also a time of year when people are hurting and depressed. Let's be salt and light in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces, in our homes, in our circles of influence. Use this time of year intentionally for the glory of God. Remember, our good deeds are important, but don't forget that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. You can't just be a little 'nicer' this time of year, you must share the message of hope!

I'd love to hear any other ideas you may have...

Monday, October 24, 2016

Why I hope You Will Be Celebrating October 31

2 Jack O Lantern Illustration

***Edit: I originally posted this in 2016. I've made a few updates on dates.

Post tenebras lux.

It means 'After darkness, light' and it's hanging on the wall in my Study and features the pictures of John Knox, Jonathan Edwards, William Tyndale, Martin Luther, and John Calvin.

I'm all for free candy, and I think it is certainly permissible for children to dress up and pretend (although I certainly don't advocate demonic costumes, even in jest!). However, it's not Halloween that I want to draw attention to this October.

Whatever you plan to do or not on the 31st, I hope you will also plan on remembering this important day for another reason:

After darkness, light.

It was on 10/31/1517 (499 500 years ago!) that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg (Germany). And while God was working in His people for centuries prior to this (think Hus, Wycliffe, etc) it is on this date that we remember the dawning of a new age in Christian history.

But really it wasn't a new age as much as a recovery of the old age. Or to put it more succinctly, the Protestant Reformation, which is credited as beginning 10/31/1517, was a recovery of biblical Christianity. Although it wasn't his original intent, Luther's nailing of his 95 theses was the mallet heard round the world. (Or at least the West)

As people began reading the Bible in its original language and also in their own language they began to see the dark corruption that Roman Catholicism had become during the middle ages (and while there have been moral reforms within Catholicism, we must sadly affirm that it is still largely antithetical to the gospel to this day). This form of 'Christianity' had built itself around working for one's own salvation and included much baggage invented by men that weighed people down instead of freeing them through Christ's gospel. Luther's theses documented the problems with the Roman Church (particularly with indulgences which are still around today). They were copied (thanks to the newly invented printing press) and spread like wildfire throughout the region. And while his hope was to reform Catholicism, Luther's work instead began a break with Rome that has, thankfully lasted almost 500 years.

The light of the gospel broke through the oppressive chains of man-made, merit-based religion and sparked the greatest revival in Christianity since perhaps Acts 2 (which might not technically classify as a revival since it was the very budding of Christianity!). This is not to imply that everyone between 400 - 1517 was lost. But it is to point out that much of what passed as Christianity in the middle ages was not light, but darkness.

Here is a brief summary of the 5 principles that were the foundation of the Reformation:

1. Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) -

It is the Bible, not tradition, that has the final authority for the Church. This doesn't mean that tradition is not important. But it does mean that where tradition and Scripture differ, Scripture wins. Scripture alone is our highest authority and is all sufficient.

Because of the Protestant Reformation, you can read the Bible in your own language! The work of men like William Tyndale, and others, at the cost of their own lives, translated the Bible into English (which was the foundation for the KJV in 1611). If nothing else, you should be reading your Bible this coming Monday and thanking God that you have a copy in your own language! Something the large majority of Christians in 1517 did not have.

2. Sola Gratia (Grace alone) -

Our salvation is by grace alone. We are saved not because there is something good in us, but in spite of the fact that there is something not good in us. Despite our evil hearts (Jeremiah 17:9) and love of sin (Romans 3:10-18) God saves sinners by His grace. It's not grace plus what you add to it as if your adding to God's work could merit you anything. It's grace alone. And this grace is enough! It is wholly sufficient to do with us what God has intended.

We deserve wave after wave of wrath but instead God has lavished on us grace upon grace. How marvelous!

3. Sola Fide (Faith alone) -

Salvation is by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9). The Roman Catholic church does believe in grace and faith but it believes these things must be mixed with our own works in order to secure salvation. But Sola Fide means that by faith in the person and work of Christ alone we are actually credited with His righteousness. In other words, by faith in Jesus God treats us like Him because at the cross He treated Jesus like us.

Salvation is by works. But it's by the works of Jesus! And by faith alone in Him, we get credtied with all the work that He has done.

4. Sola Christus (Christ alone) -

Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, in Christ alone. Faith in faith is futile. We aren't merely people of 'faith' but Christians are people of faith in Christ. Faith must have the proper object and that object is a person, namely Jesus the Son of God. Our faith cannot be in ordinances or sacraments. Our faith cannot be in our own good behavior or merit. Our faith can't even be in the 'Reformation'! Our faith must rest on Christ alone. This faith isn't the absence of reason. It's not a 'leap in the dark'. But it is an affirmation of the facts of the gospel as well as a resting of all that we are in Christ and trusting His work alone for our right standing with God. By faith, we are united with Christ and can be assured that all the blessings He secured in His life, death, and resurrection for His people, are ours.

5. Soli Deo Gloria (The Glory of God alone) -

The chief end of salvation is not actually about us. It is about the glory of God in His rescuing of unrighteous rebels for His own eternal glory. God has called us, saved us, and sanctifies us for the sake of His name. Salvation from beginning to end is about the glory of God. The above reformation principles don't mean that we live unholy lives, but rather because salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, we can rest assured that Believers' lives are going to be lived to the glory of God. We will be a people holy, set apart, and living for Jesus. And this won't be a 'holiness' as manifest in man-made rituals, but a holiness that is derived from a life changed by grace that is seeking to live for the glory of God in all that we do. Salvation is not about exalting man and what he has done, but about exalting God and all He has done by His grace and for His glory through the person and work of Christ the Son.

So, I hope you will be celebrating this coming Monday October 31st.

Take this opportunity to teach your children about the Reformation. Don't let secular history books gut the reformation to only be something about political maneuvering. It was much more than that! It was about God bringing light into darkness and rescuing people through the gospel for His own eternal glory. Something He is still doing today! The Reformation still matters as not only do we continue to reject the false teachings of Roman Catholicism, but also any false teaching that seeks to corrupt the gospel and take away from the glorious truth of God rescuing sinners by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone for His glory alone. May we be committed to Scripture alone as our highest authority and people ever ready to defend the faith once delivered to the Saints.

Take time 10/31 to thank God for sending the light of the gospel to you and pray for your pastor(s) as they seek to uphold these principles for the glory of God.

Perhaps as you think of God's grace to you in the gospel, you will take the opportunity Monday to share the truth of the gospel with a neighbor, friend, family member, or coworker.

Perhaps also, you would like to take time this year to brush up on your history of the Reformation. Let me recommend a great little book just published in 2016: Rescuing the Gospel by Erwin Lutzer. Of course, there are many great books on this subject that you could read. And I understand that not everyone loves history. But this is an important part of our Christian past! And it's why I hope you will be celebrating October 31. Soli Deo Gloria.

If you have the availability, join us for our Remembering the Reformation Conference as we celebrate 500 years since the Reformation began.

10 Reasons to Intentionally Disciple Your Children

leisure, playground, recess

We wrapped up our sermon series on Discipleship  by discussing a crucial aspect of discipleship sometimes overlooked: Parenting. You can listen to the sermon in its entirety here, but what I hope to convince you of in this post is 10 reasons we must be intentionally discipling our children. 

  • Intentional as in thought out and focused. Not merely taking your children to church, but in addition to that, having focused times throughout the week to teach the truths of Scripture.

  • Discipling as in having the goal of rearing our children as the Lord's. That our focus, goal, and priority of raising our children is that we would see them come to follow Christ and to live with Him as their Savior and King. 

So, Ten Reasons to intentionally disciple our children:

1. God Commands it 

"Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4).  This is a command. We could just stop here couldn’t we?

God commands us to raise our children up in the discipline and instruction of Him. Dads, you are the pastor of your home. Moms, if you are single or have a husband who is not a Believer, this responsibility falls on you. I don't mean to imply that a single parent home is easy, but this command applies even in that situation. 

We could look at other passages like Deuteronomy 6:4-7, Psalm 78:4, Joshua 24:15, Proverbs 22:6, 2 Timothy 3:15, and see that God's plan for children has always been that parents would be the primary disciple makers.

Church programs can certainly be helpful and beneficial. But they can't take the place of parenting. If a child spends 4 hours at church a week, that still pales in comparison to the amount of time they spend with their parents.

2. Christians throughout history have practiced it

As Christians, we have 2,000 years of Christian history to look to. Did everyone get everything right? No. But, there is still much to learn and we can hear the voices from Christian past call out to us and encourage us to do family worship.

We could go through a long list of names and quotes – Men like John Newton, who wrote the song Amazing Grace, like Jonathan Edwards, the greatest American Theologian in history, Charles Spurgeon, the prince of preachers, have all advocated family worship and being intentional in the discipleship of our children

Almost 300 years ago George Whitefield had this to say: “visit our churches, and you may perhaps see something of the form of godliness still subsisting among us; but even that is scarcely to be met with in private houses.” So, he’s saying “look even in our churches godliness is but a form. But in the homes! Not even that is met in the homes!” Year by year it seems the standard of godliness is lowered by so called Christian culture. How fitting to see that as we look at this 2016 election cycle, we are simply reaping what we've sown! Let us take heed from those who've gone before us!

We are both prideful and foolish if we fail to listen to and learn from those who have gone on before us.

3. Grace compels it

In Christ, we are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). Let me encourage you: Don’t let society dictate to you how you should raise your children and grandchildren. Don’t let society shape your thinking on what’s important in life. We are a new creation! All that we are has been affected by the gospel, including how we parent.

Let God’s grace compel you to put His principles to work in rearing kids.

4. There is a war on the family

You might be tempted to think this is new. No, it began in the Garden. The serpent took God’s order for the family and turned it on its head. And we continue to see this war rage throughout the Bible. Cain killing Abel, Joseph’s brothers attempting to kill him, Pharaoh ordering the death of male Hebrews, Herod killing children 2 and under, and on and on and on. There is a war on the family because God instituted the family and Satan hates God.

This war continues on today. The Obergefell decision. Abortion. Divorce. Pornography. Child Predators. Sex outside of marriage. All of this is part of the ongoing on the family. 

If I told you today that there was someone coming to break into your home, you'd do all you could to prevent it. The truth is, the Evil One is trying to break into your home. How are you protecting it? The reality is, no one is on the sidelines in this war. We are all engaged in this battle. How are you contributing? A lack of contribution is contribution toward the Enemy.

5. Your children need it

Prom Dresses, baseball, and college. All those things are great. But one day our children will stand before the throne of the God of the Universe. And they will give an account of their life. And we have the opportunity right now to instill in them the truths of God’s Word. They need it.

Their little hearts are so malleable. Press the truths of God on them! Let us strive them the gospel regularly, and intentionally! "Oh, but I don't want to sway my child one way or the other. I just want them to make their own choices." I promise you that if you don't intentionally seek to shape your child, the world will. "But I don't want to shelter my child." Well, sheltering your child, along with feeding and clothing him, is the sign of a good parent! No, I don't mean be a 'helicopter' parent. But I do mean take a focused and thoughtful approach to rearing your children in the Lord.

· This will manifest itself in daily conversations you have with your kids. Talk to them about the Bible, the gospel, God, sin, forgiveness.

· And it will manifest itself in intentional times of family devotions and prayer

Family worship is something we must recover in our homes. Resolve that at least 2-3 nights a week you will take 10-15 minutes with your children memorizing Scripture, talking about the Bible, singing songs of the faith, and explaining the gospel and its ramifications. 

6. You love your children

Read the type of person that Scripture calls blessed. Look at Psalm 1:1-3 for example. And so, because we love our children we instruct them in these truths. We want our children to live a blessed life don't we? We don’t just want them to escape hell. We want them to see life for what it was intended: To enjoy God and glorify Him forever! Because we love them we want them to live a life that matters.

7. Your soul needs it

It’s been said that our hearts are idol factories. Meaning, we are constantly reaching out to other things to worship. Whether it’s our self-esteem, or self-image, or even our children’s popularity, or money, or sports, or a certain size of clothes, or whatever.

You weren’t made to worship these things. You were made to worship the God who made you! You will find as you intentionally instruct your children in the ways of Christ that your own soul will find refreshment in the truths of Scripture.

As you teach you learn. As you teach your children to worship, you worship. As they grow, you grow. And your soul needs this.

8. The church needs it 

Psalm 127:3-4 says "Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth."

I love this imagery. The bible says children are like arrows in the hands of a warrior. That’s a manly image. Arrows. In the hands of a warrior.

So, in a sense, God has given the church this mighty weapon in children, whom we can rear and then shoot out at the forces of darkness and press them back as the Kingdom of God advances.

The local church should have a big picture focus on this. We can ever strive to equip and encourage parents in this. You remember Braveheart? Or any movie that depicts a battle scene like that. Here come the archers first and they just let loose a barrage of arrows. Wave after wave after wave! So, get your arrows ready. Get them ready to be of use to the church. Don’t let your children actually be tools in the hand of the Enemy. The church needs us to pour into our children now so that when they come of age, they can serve, and love, and assist in winning souls to Jesus, instead of needing to be won.

Do not bow to cultural expectations for rearing your children. The Bible Belt can be the toughest place to raise a Chrisitan child sometimes only because what passes as 'Christian' is too often contrary to Scripture. Do not be a parent that wants your child to have worldly success at the expense of a total commitment to following Christ in all areas. 

In Southern Baptist life, many adults have their names on a church roll but don't actually attend or at based attend occasionally. Do all in your power to not let your children grow up with that sort of commitment or mentality. Many professing Southern Baptists don't actually love the church and we know that any person who doesn't love the church doesn't love Christ and is, therefore, unregenerate. Don't settle for this in rearing your children.

Yes, we know that it is the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit that regenerates hearts. But do all in your power to set your children an example of what a true Believer really is and then teach them intentionally the truths of God's Word. Teach them that the church isn't an add on to our week but what we schedule our week around. Show them tangible examples of generosity, grace, and sharing the gospel.

Our children need to be on this side of the mission carrying the banner of Christ to places still unreached instead of on the other side of the mission needing to be reached…

9. The world needs it

As Christian parents, we should be light to this world (cf. Matt. 5:16). Rearing your children with the primary goal of God’s glory isn’t common. The world needs to see that you’re different. When your children’s friends come over they need to see you engage in this behavior. Let your friends see you engage in this behavior.

The world needs to see that you don’t have a Sunday faith only but you desire to worship God with every aspect of your life. They need to see a recovery of biblical Christianity, and that is going to begin in the home. 

Yup. You will definitely have a high chance here of being looked at as 'weird' or 'counter-cultural.' But that's exactly what the gospel is to the world isn't it? Foolishness. I'm not saying strive to be weird by any means. I don't think that's a spiritual gift! But the world needs to see what it's like for parents who love Christ supremely. More than your kids’ popularity. More than gymnastics. More than sports. You’ve tasted and seen that the Lord is good and this has changed everything about you….

No, the world won't be saved through your Christian parenting. But your Christian parenting does give testimony to the gospel and how Christ saves to the uttermost.

10. We have no excuses

What I am talking about is being intentional in pouring God’s truth into our children.

Setting time aside a few nights a week to read the Bible together. To pray together. To ask questions. To sing. To talk about God’s Truth. To have a big picture view of raising your kids to the glory of God by intentionally proclaiming God’s Word to them. To talk of God's truth "when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise" (Deut. 6:7).

I think the 2 biggest excuses for people are these:

        1. I don’t have time

It is certainly true that we are all busy. But, this is a priority isn’t it? It’s ok to give up other things, in order to do this thing. Unplug the satellite if necessary. Cancel your child's basketball season if that's what it takes. This is important enough to make time for.

        2. I don’t know how

Just start with this: Open up the bible and read it with your kids, and pray, and then maybe sing a simple song that is age appropriate. God has equipped you in this! You can do this! 

Will you?

Let me close with this: There are no perfect parents. We've all failed, and we've all fallen short. Our salvation isn't based on our parenting skills but on the finished work of Christ. Jesus bore the wrath of God on our behalf, including the wrath that we deserve for our failures as parents. So, God accepts us in Christ! We don't parent so that God will love us. God has already proven His love for us in the finished work of His Son. So, the gospel has freed us to bring our children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Yes, we fall short, but we are free now to strive for holiness in our families in such a way that God is pleased and that our families, churches, and communities will be affected positively for our good and His glory.