Monthly Archives: July 2013
Those who read this blog and are part of my church have probably heard, but for others, I have given notice of my resignation as a pastor. This does not mean I am quitting ministry for we, who have put our faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins are all ministers.
My passion for the gospel has not been diminished and I await to what God has for me in the next phase of my life. In regards to this blog, I will continue to post and will perhaps have some more time now to write some original pieces. So don’t delete this from you bookmarks yet.
This is what turns on 8 grandsons. I’ve got to get these for them!
Paul Tripp states, “My existence has been taken over and altered by powerful and unstoppable grace. No matter how great my sin, no matter how foolish I am, and no matter how messy my track record, grace will ultimately win. God’s kingdom will come. His will will be done.”
The following is an article by Tullian Tchividjian, Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida titled
GOD THREW A STONE
As I’ve said before, God speaks two words to the world. People have called them many things: Law and Gospel, Judgment and Love, Critique and Grace, and so on. In essence, though, it’s pretty simple: first, God gives us bad news (about us), and then, God gives us Good News (about Jesus).
This is perhaps most clearly seen in another incredibly well-known (and incredibly misunderstood) passage of Scripture: Jesus’ interaction with the woman caught in the act of adultery.
The scribes and Pharisees catch a woman in the act of adultery, and drag her before Jesus. Can you imagine a woman who ever felt more shame than this one? Literally caught in the act of adultery? Unfathomable. They tell Jesus of her infraction, and remind him that the law of Moses says such women should be stoned. Then they issue a challenge: “What do you say?” They’re trying to trick Jesus into admitting what they suspect: that he’s “soft” on the Law.
Confronted by this test, Jesus bends down and writes in the sand with his finger. Now, we aren’t told what he writes, but I think it’s instructive to look at the only other instances in the Bible where God writes with his finger. The first is obvious: The inscription of the 10 Commandments on the stone tablets. The second, though, is less well-known.
In Daniel 5, King Belshazzar is having a huge party, at which “they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone” (v. 4). Suddenly, a hand appears and begins writing on the wall. When Daniel is called in to translate the writing, this is what it is revealed to say: “Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” There can be no doubt that these are three words of judgment—i.e. Law. “You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.” Has a more chilling word of judgment ever been uttered?
So the two other times God wrote with his finger, he wrote law. I don’t think, therefore, it’s a stretch to think that when Jesus writes in the sand with his finger, he’s writing law. I like to think that perhaps Jesus wrote, “Anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28). Certainly, whatever he wrote, the function of his writing is clear: it serves to reveal the sin of those gathered.
Far from being “soft” on the Law, Jesus shows just how high the bar of the law is. How do we know? Because the scribes and Pharisees respond the same way that all of us respond when we are confronted with depth of God’s inflexible demands—they scattered. Beginning with the oldest ones, they all, like the rich young ruler, walked away defeated.
When Jesus and the woman are left alone, and she acknowledges that no one remains to condemn her, Jesus speaks his final word to her: “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11). This is where the story gets misunderstood.
“Aha!” we cry. “See! Jesus tells her to shape up! He leaves her with an exhortation!” But look at the order of Jesus’ words: First, he tells the woman that he does not condemn her. Only then does he instruct her to sin no more. This is enormous. He does not make his love conditional on her behavior. He does not say, “Go, sin no more, and check back with me in six months. If you’ve been good, I won’t condemn you.”
No. Our Savior does so much better than that.
Jesus creates new life in the woman by loving her unconditionally, with no-strings-attached. By forgiving her profound shame, he impacts her profoundly. By refusing to condemn her, he sets her free to do what she has no doubt already pledged to do on her own: leave her old life behind.
Like the adulterous woman, we are all caught in the act—discovered in a shameful breach of God’s law. Though no one on earth can throw the first stone, God can. And he did. The wonder of all wonders is that the rock of condemnation that we justly deserved was hurled by the Father onto the Son. The law-maker became the law-keeper and died for us, the law-breakers. “In my place condemned He stood; and sealed my pardon with His blood. Hallelujah, what a Savior.”
So now we can sing:
“Free from the law—oh, happy condition! Jesus hath bled, and there is remission; Cursed by the law and bruised by the fall, Christ hath redeemed us once and for all. Once for all, oh, sinner receive it; once for all, oh doubter believe it; Cling to the cross, the burden will fall, Christ hath redeemed us once for all.”
“There on the cross your burden bearing, Thorns on His brow your Savior is wearing; Never again your sin need appall, You have been pardoned once for all. Now we are free—there’s no condemnation; Jesus provides a perfect salvation: ‘Come unto Me,’ oh, hear His sweet call, Come, and He saves us once for all.”
I often get asked, “Which children’s Bible should we buy for our kids?” One of my recommendations for years has been Sally Lloyd Jones’ The Jesus Storybook Bible. Here is an article by Sally about teaching the Bible to your young child.
Do you read the Bible like a rulebook? Do you look at the biblical characters as heroes to emulate? Or do you read Scripture as a Story with one great Hero?
When I go to churches and speak to children, I often start by asking them two questions:
They tentatively raise their hands. I raise my hand along with them.
And second, How many people here sometimes think that if you aren’t good, God will stop loving you?
Almost without fail they raise their hands.
These children think they have to keep the rules or God won’t love them. They think if they mess up God will stop loving them.
These children are in Sunday schools. They know all their Bible stories. And they have missed what the Bible is all about.
They are children like I once was.
Feelings of not enough
Even though I came to faith as a small child, I somehow grew up thinking the Bible was filled with rules you had to keep (or God wouldn’t love you) and with heroes setting examples you had to follow (or God wouldn’t love you).
I tried to be good. I really did. I was quite good at being good and keeping the rules. But however hard I tried, I couldn’t keep the rules all the time, so I knew God must not be pleased with me.
And as far as being a hero: I certainly couldn’t ever be as brave as Daniel.
I remember being tormented by that Sunday school chorus “Dare to Be a Daniel.”
I somehow grew up thinking the Bible was filled with rules you had to keep (or God wouldn’t love you) and with heroes setting examples you had to follow (or God wouldn’t love you).
I remember lying in bed, hiding under the sheets, trying to imagine what I would do if someone threatened to throw me to lions. Would I be brave like Daniel? Would I stand firm? Would I be faithful? Hard as I tried to imagine myself daring to be a Daniel, being thrown to lions and not minding, I knew I wouldn’t be a hero.
I knew I wasn’t nearly brave enough. Or strong enough. Or faithful enough, or anything enough.
I wasn’t doing it right.
How could God ever love me?
I was sure that he couldn’t.
Turning Bible stories into lessons of morality
One Sunday, I was reading “Daniel and the Scary Sleepover” from The Jesus Storybook Bible to some 6-year-olds during Sunday school. One little girl in particular was sitting so close to me she was almost in my lap. Her face was bright and eager as she listened to the story, utterly captivated. She could hardly keep on the ground and kept kneeling up to get closer to the story.
At the end of the story there were no other teachers around, and I panicked and went into autopilot and heard myself—to my horror—asking, “And so what can we learn from Daniel about how God wants us to live?”
And as I said those words it was as if I had literally laid a huge load on that little girl. Like I broke some spell. She crumpled right in front of me, physically slumping and bowing her head. I will never forget it.
The Bible isn’t mainly about us, and what we are supposed to be doing—it’s about God, and what he has done.
It is a picture of what happens to a child when we turn a story into a moral lesson.
When we drill a Bible story down into a moral lesson, we make it about us. But the Bible isn’t mainly about us, and what we are supposed to be doing—it’s about God, and what he has done.
Children don’t need to be told to try harder, believe more, or do it better. That just leaves them in despair. The moral code always leaves us in despair. We can never live up to it.
I knew it as a child—I could never be good enough or brave enough.
Teaching God’s story in the Bible
We don’t need a moral code. We need a rescuer.
That the Bible isn’t mainly about me and what I should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done.
That the Bible is most of all a story—the story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.
That—in spite of everything, no matter what, whatever it cost him—God won’t ever stop loving his children . . . with a wonderful, Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.
That the Bible, in short, is a Story—not a Rule Book—and there is only one Hero in the Story.
I wrote The Jesus Storybook Bible so children could meet the Hero in its pages. And become part of His Magnificent Story.
Because rules don’t change you.
But a Story—God’s Story—can.
By Dan Doriani
After a decade as senior pastor of Central Presbyterian church in Clayton, Missouri, Dan Doriani will return to Covenant Seminary full time beginning October 1, 2013. He will serve as vice president of strategic academic projects and professor of theology.
With additional time to assess last week’s Supreme Court decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8, we can see how both advance America’s move toward accepting and affirming gay marriage. Analysts disagree about what comes next, but many believe the language in Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion will soon let the Supreme Court declare a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Wherever we live, same-sex marriage is probably coming soon. Kennedy wrote that DOMA is unconstitutional because of its “interference with the equal dignity of same-sex marriages.” DOMA’s effect, Kennedy said, is “to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal.” DOMA’s “principal purpose is to impose inequality . . . to disparage and to injure” people who, Kennedy concludes, live in less respected forms of marriage.
Reacting to these decisions, many Christians are pleased by the way rights have been extended to an often oppressed group. Whatever our view of marriage may be, we must know that the law of Moses often insists on equal legal protection for all (e.g. Exod. 23:8, Deut. 16:19). On the other hand, Genesis states and Jesus reaffirms God’s good plan for marriage: “From the beginning the Creator made them male and female. . . . For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Matt. 19:4-5). Many of us are troubled by the Supreme Court’s decisions because they show how our nation’s allegiance to biblical norms is eroding. But the paramount question is this: How does this ruling change things for the church and the cause of Christ and the gospel?
In a vital way, nothing changes. Jesus is still our living Lord. As Russell Moore has said, the gospel doesn’t need family values to flourish: “Real faith often thrives when it is in sharp contrast to the cultures around it. That’s why the gospel rocketed out of the first-century from places such as Ephesus and Philippi and Corinth and Rome.” None of these cities had moral systems that promoted healthy marriages. In fact, the very contrast between Christian marriages and the wreckage of pagan marriages extolled the virtue of Christianity. One respectable philosopher, writing in an era of moral chaos that included slave concubines and easy divorce, even said in a wedding speech that a husband’s adultery should be viewed as a sign of respect for his wife: “It is respect for her which leads him to share his debauchery, licentiousness, and wantonness with another woman” (Plutarch, “Advice to Bride and Groom”). This sort of nonsense strengthened the appeal of Christianity.
Let’s remember, too, that this is hardly the first time an America court or legislature has promoted or tolerated actions contrary to biblical morality. We think of abortion and Roe vs. Wade. Sadly, states don’t just allow gambling—they actually promote it. The state cannot, however, force us to gamble. And while compulsory abortion is practiced in parts of China, our laws give us every freedom to promote life, which we do.
For those who are prone to despair, a word on abortion is apt. Through persistence and courage, abortion has been rolled back. In the 1980s, my state of Missouri had an abortion rate that exceeded 20 percent of pregnancies. Today it is 8 percent, and the rate is even lower in the upper Midwest. Since the abortion rate remains as high as ever in some states (near 40 percent in New York), it seems that gentle persuasion can create a moral consensus. Not long ago, this sort of progress in the protection of the unborn seemed impossible.
Adorn the Gospel
The recent decisions of the Supreme Court in no way restrict our freedom to marry, have children, and love each other. If anything, recent decisions should prompt us to rededicate ourselves to Christ-like love in marriage. The Christian marriage ideal attracted many pagans to Christ in the apostolic age. And when the Reformers restored the biblical teaching on marriage 500 years ago, it enhanced the call to the gospel of Christ. When Reformers like Martin Luther married and became faithful husbands and fathers, their conduct adorned the gospel. May our marriages become an ongoing testimony to God’s purposes.
Jesus said, “From the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female.'” We use this statement to promote God’s ideal and rightly so, but let’s remember that Jesus made that statement in order to correct an error in his age and ours: rampant and arbitrary divorce.
Sadly, the rise in same-sex marriage is possible in part because our culture has strayed so far from God’s plan for marriage. Casual cohabitation, promiscuity, and easy divorce all erode the appeal of God’s ideal. Church conduct looks all too similar. What then?
First, we should tend our marriages, steadily regarding our spouse as God’s great gift (Prov. 19:14). At its best, Paul says, the love of a Christian marriage reflects the love of Christ for the church. A strong marriage can adorn the gospel (Tit. 2:10). Waves of good marriages will make the case for God’s plan more effectively than any state or federal law.
Not long ago I was seated at a wedding reception next to a Christian professor who did his doctoral work at one secular university and now teaches at another. He said that the great majority of his fellow professors are secular and non-Christian. Nonetheless, they love their Christian students. He explained why: On the whole, they are far more likely to come to class faithfully and well-prepared. They are willing to argue their convictions. They are active in campus life. They volunteer to do worthwhile things and they keep their commitments.
The Christian faith and Christian ethics have lost the home-field advantage in our culture. But we are still free to present our faith and the gospel. We can do that with words and with lives that show the beauty of the gospel. That is the surest way to promote God’s good plan for marriage.
Pastor Steve DeWitt of Bethel Church in Crown Point, Indiana writes of his thoughts of becoming a father of his first child. Great challenge for us dads. This is part of the article and you can read the entire one or hear his message at http://stevedewitt.org/
By God’s grace, to be a biblical father to her
The natural question is what is a biblical father?
Fatherhood is part of the very beginning of the creation story, and even before that. The true beginning of fatherhood is the role and title of the head of the Triune Godhead. God the Father functions and relates to the other two members of the trinity as self-identified “father.” Fatherhood is therefore sacred and holy. God relates to humanity in general as Father while his fatherliness is expressed fully to all who trust in Christ as Savior. By faith we become sons and daughters of God. Father is a title, a role, and a relationship. God is Father, functions as a father, and relates to his children with fatherliness and nurturing love.
As God has done in so many ways, God built into the very fabric of this world a created reflection of that divine fatherliness. Earthly fathers. This is what he said to Adam and Eve, So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:27-28, ESV)
God created sexuality and commanded reproduction and filling of the earth. This is known as the creation mandate. God wanted Adam and Eve to have kids. So children and parenting children were part of God’s plan for humanity. God calls all creation “very good” and that includes the sexuality of Adam and Eve, marriage, family, and Adam’s title, role, and relationship as father. It is all very good!
Scripture affirms this elsewhere, 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. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127:3-5)
The fifth commandment honors the parent/child relationship, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. (Exodus 20:12)
Jesus honored children and said they are a kind of litmus test of whether we see people the way God sees them. And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” (Mark 9:36-37) Jesus doesn’t measure children’s value by their wealth, intellect, contribution to commerce or society, he values them through the eyes of God and says, they are so valued by God that to honor them is to honor me. Why? They are image-bearers of the Most High God and objects of God’s care and favor.
Definition of a biblical father – A biblical father provides, loves, and nurtures the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of his child with the goal of the child’s faith and maturity in Christ.
I have anxiety about this. That’s terrifying. How is little old me going to do that? By God’s grace.
By God’s grace, to love her despite her (and my) imperfections
I am somebody who naturally likes to figure things out in advance. I like to plan. To fix things. I view problems as things to be solved. I like to anticipate outcomes and steer things toward the desirable outcomes. I am definitely on the proactive side of the personality spectrum.
One of the most surprising anxieties I have had during pregnancy is the simple fact that you really don’t know what’s coming out. It’s safe to say it’s human. Ultrasounds can tell you gender. Past that you don’t know about her health, her personality, or what her life is going to be and mean and what this will mean for my life. Having a baby is really risky.
I remember the meeting with our doctor we had when she began to list all the birth defects and special need possibilities. She went on to talk about our age and percentage statistics and suggested we do further testing to find out if there are any problems. I am pretty sure this is related to the abortion stuff and the tragic option in our culture to abort special needs children.
Clearly that was not an option for us and we declined the further testing. I have seen parents of Down syndrome children and autistic children and other special needs children. But after that day, I will never “see” them the same again. They too prayed for the health of their child. They hoped for a healthy baby like everybody else but God has given them a special gift that carries with it the need for special grace. As an almost father, my perspective changed and my compassion soared.
You can’t fix chromosomes. My wife’s pregnancy was a season of great faith testing for me. Hebrews 11:1 says, Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Do I believe that God is good? Do I believe that God will give us grace for whatever parenting this baby will mean? Do I realize she is born a sinner with all the moral and spiritual brokenness that entails? Do I grasp how much she needs the Holy Spirit in her to obey God from the heart? Do I realize that in this, I am no different than her?
And what is normal anyway? God does his most special work through these special children. Let’s not idealize 10 fingers and toes, shape and form, intellect and talent and miss God’s special grace in children and families where reality is less than our culture’s ideal.
By God’s grace, to cultivate biblical femininity by modeling robust masculinity
In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul argues that women should be women right down to the way they present themselves and that men should be men as well. There’s cultural language there about dress but the underlying principle goes all the way back to Genesis 1:27, God created us male and female.
Those gender distinctions are part of our personhood and his purpose for humanity. Only because of the Fall do you have women trying to be masculine and men being feminine.
How is Kiralee going to become a feminine woman? Having a biblical and feminine woman like Jennifer as her mother will go a long way. Yet I know I have a critical role to play in that. Since femininity is complementary to masculinity, little girls develop their beautiful feminine character by being alongside a strong masculine man. Dad is best in this role but praise God for faithful stand-ins like grandpa or an uncle or a godly man in the church.
Kiralee is going to form her perspective of what it means to be a woman and how to relate to a man largely on the strength of my masculinity in the home. That has nothing to do with having a hairy chest or watching football. Biblical masculinity is tender and loving headship that shows itself through sacrificial servant leadership of the home. Single gals, this is what you want in a husband. Don’t look at his biceps or his bleached teeth; look at the strength of his character and his selflessness. I don’t have time to develop this thought but I know the best way to get a strong male servant leader as a son-in-law is for her to admire those same qualities in me. It makes her secure in her femininity. She won’t go looking for it in all the wrong places. Dad is in the right place, and if it’s God’s will, someday she will find those qualities in the arms of her husband.
This relates to the next longing I have….
By God’s grace, to be a godly example to her
I believe God is sovereign in salvation but also believe he uses means to accomplish his will. There is no more effective means of making disciples than Christian parents faithfully living out their faith in front of their kids. I was a youth pastor for five years and Senior Pastor for 16. Do you know how many times I have said that, taught that, pounded the pulpit as I did?
Now it’s my turn. It’s kind of like when I went to Franciscan St. Anthony Health for knee surgery a few years ago. I have gone to see people there untold times. When it was my turn to be there it sure felt different. When it comes to being a dad, now it’s my shot. My turn. My run at it. Now I have to take a deep breath and ask, Will my life draw her toward the gospel and love for Christ or push her away from it? I feel this especially as she is going to grow up hearing me tout all kinds of things from the pulpit. This poor girl will hear hundreds, maybe thousands of my sermons. But she will be different. She will know the real me behind the scenes. What will she see? Will what she sees convince her that Jesus really does change your life?
It’s hard to fake out our kids. At church, we are all amazing Christians. Kids don’t evaluate our faith based on what they see at church but by what they see at home. I know good and godly Christian parenting is no guarantee of faith for their children. But I do know I can make it hard for her to believe.
This leads to my final longing….
By God’s grace, my ultimate goal for her is faith and maturity in Christ
Paul writes this in Ephesians 6:4, Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
There’s something not to do—exasperate your child by harsh and domineering parenting. Rather, my parenting aim is to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. I have many “must do’s” as a dad. I need to provide for my family. I need to lead as a servant leader in the home. I need to provide care, shelter, education, discipline, etc.
But this is the one statement of what I must do most of all. I must disciple Kiralee. That begins by instructing her regarding spiritual truth. Teaching her the gospel. She is a sinner before a holy God. God loves her. Jesus died for her sins. God will forgive her sins. But she must believe in Jesus as her Savior and follow him with her life. Small children can understand that. I know it because I did. Then I need to continue to teach her, cultivate a heart of service for God, and help her know how to live a life that pleases her heavenly Father.
Of all the longings I have for Kiralee, the biggest one is that I want to enjoy heaven and eternity with her. The thought of her NOT being there is more than my young daddy heart can handle.
Parents, what is your big goal? Have you allowed some other thing to become the big goal? Your daughter is not going to be an Olympic gymnast and your son is not going to play in the NFL or NHL or whatever. Yet so much time and money is poured into these very, very secondary things.
What really matters when it comes to our kids? Valedictorian or eternal life? Athletic success or eternal life? Getting into the right college or eternal life? Amazing trombone player in marching band that takes 3rd place at regionals or eternal life? Our window of time with our kids is so small; why miss the opportunity to focus on cultivating a heart for God and a life lived to his glory?
For every man who wants to be a father, is an almost father, or a current father, what could be more important than partnering with God to reach our children for Christ? That is my goal. I’m not the “almost father” now, she’s here. I am the “just starting” father. I have much to learn but I think these longings are grounded in biblical truth and all biblical fathers will long for them too.