Committing to Family Worship

As a pastor, I have discovered that just the thought of “family worship” or “family devotions” can be overwhelming to Christian parents. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is because parents think they need to duplicate the Sunday morning worship service.  The reality is that family worship doesn’t have to be complicated.

Quite simply, family worship is the family coming together to worship God. The Puritans were big on this and called the family a “little church” of sorts. They believed that the worship of God should be a regular activity, not just something that happened on Sunday. Over the past few years, we have tried to make family worship part of our daily routine. Our three kids are still pretty young so it can be a challenge, but it has also been a great blessing to our family. I can almost guarantee you that if you start doing family worship, it will have a unifying effect on your family and will draw you closer to the Lord.

There are many ways of doing family worship, but there are a few key elements that I would like to highlight for you. Husbands and fathers, as head of the family (Ephesians 5:23, 1 Corinthians 11:3) take the initiative to call the family together for worship. Begin by reading a portion of Scripture. It doesn’t have to be long, but I would encourage you to work through a book of the Bible. One day you can read half a chapter or a chapter, and then next day you can pick it up where you left off. After reading a portion of Scripture, ask the kids a few questions that pertain to the reading. Help them understand what God is saying through His Word. Don’t think you need to preach a sermon every time you have family worship, but it is your responsibility to expose your children to the word of God (Ephesians 6:4). Also, there are plenty of good devotional books that can be of help to you.

Next, grab a hymnal or a church songbook or listen to a worship cd and sing a couple praise songs to the Lord. Most kids love to sing so compliance will not be an issue here. Finally, finish off your time of worship in prayer. Offer God your praises, petitions, and thanksgivings together as a family. In these two things (praise and prayer), you are responding to God’s revelation, goodness, and mercy. If you are not already practicing family worship, I would encourage you to start. Our family worship times usually only last 10-15 minutes so it doesn’t have to be long. The important thing is to get started and to allow the Lord to direct you.

If you are a couple without any kids, then it goes without saying that you can still have times of family worship. You just have more freedom to worship in a manner that suits you. I would say the same thing to grandparents. Your kids may have left many years ago, but that shouldn’t stop you and your spouse from studying God’s Word and worshipping together. When you visit the grandkids, do what you can to teach them the Bible (Deuteronomy 6:7) and to model a life of worship. Remember that you have an important role to play in this.

As my wife reminded me this morning, we as parents don’t have a problem understanding the importance of feeding our kids each and every day. We know they need nourishment in order to grow and develop and be sustained. But the same is true of our spiritual food. Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). If you want your kids to truly “live” then be sure and nourish them with the life giving manna of God’s Word. One day, they will thank you (Proverbs 31:27-28) for this.

By the way, for the regular readers of the blog, if you are wondering, I did post this about a year ago and have lightly edited it. Hope you don’t mind.

Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment

“Gordon and Emma met at a church function. She was an admirable young woman, and he was a fairly new pastor. Their wedding day seemed to be the launch of a godly couple in the promise of fruitful ministry in the decades ahead. But just a few days into their honeymoon, all of Emma’s dreams for her life were crushed. Gordon made it clear that he didn’t love Emma, and that he had married her simply because there were more opportunities for married pastors than single ones.

 

For forty years, through the birth of six children, and the while functioning as a pastor, Gordon made no meaningful attempt to kindle love for his wife. Freely admitting to an adulterous affair that began after the birth of their fourth child, Gordon insisted he must remain married – divorce would derail his pastoral career. Marriage for Emma became a life of secret shame. She was relegated to sharing a room with their two daughters, while her husband stayed in a separate room, and their four sons in another.

 

Gordon’s disregard for Emma permeated almost every facet of their marriage. While she continued to live under the same roof, she never experienced life under his care. Seemingly normal on the outside, Gordon’s disdain for his marriage created a home ruled by his hypocrisy and indifference to his wife’s well-being. His children grew up with a clear sense of the difference in their family and others, but little grasp on the fundamental wrong being done to their mother on a daily basis.

 

But Emma loved the Savior who was merciful to her and clung to him through the trials and years. Bereft of human love from the man she had wed, she threw herself on the mercy of God. The gospel reminded her that she needed a Savior – and that her principal need was not to be saved from a cruel twist of fate, or the evil of the man who shared her home, but from her own profound sinfulness before God. Emma understood the mercy and forgiveness of God for her sin, and accepted the Father’s call to extend mercy toward her husband. Emma never allowed bitterness to take root in her heart. Instead she learned how to stand with dignity by entrusting her welfare to Christ.

 

For four decades, mercy defined her actions, thoughts, and words toward the man whose very purpose in life seemed to be to crush her spirit. Knowing that her response to her husband would testify to her children about the God she served, Emma was resolutely determined to draw on Christ for grace and to honor Christ in her actions.

 

The marriage ended sadly and painfully after forty years – an apparent ministry call squandered, a financially destitute family shattered by the unrepentant sin of one man. In the years following their divorce, Emma sent Gordon birthday cards and periodic letters, calling the lonely and rebellious man to God. She was tasting the sweet joy of a deep relationship with the Father, and increasingly longed for Gordon to know that for himself.

 

Somewhere in that time, the mercy of God broke in on Gordon and he responded to the gospel call in saving faith. The children, now adult Christians, lovingly confronted him on his past sins, and for the first time Gordon took responsibility for the destruction of his family. Gordon wrote a letter to Emma confessing his sin against God and against her. Emma was faced with the test of forgiveness. Can it be that easy? Can mercy cover forty years of wrong? We have Emma’s choice preserved in the note she wrote back to her former husband:

 

It is with mixed emotions that I read your letter. Sad, as I was reminded of many difficult years, but also glad for the work the Spirit of God is doing in your life. Glad to hear you share your failures so frankly and ask for my forgiveness. And glad to hear you share them with your children. Gordon, I forgive you. I forgive you for not loving me as Christ loved the church and for your disregard of our marriage vows. Though I am saddened by many marriage memories, I have released them to the Lord and have guarded my heart from the ravages of bitterness. I rejoice in the mercy of God, that in spite of our failed marriage, our children all serve the Lord faithfully….God uses confession and forgiveness to bring healing. I’m trusting God that will be true for both of us.

 

Both Emma and Gordon have gone on to be with the Savior, who wove restoration into a torn family with the strong threads of mercy. All of their children love the Savior and now see the mysterious purpose of God as they look back. Though Emma and Gordon were never restored as husband and wife, Gordon was laid to rest in old age, no longer alone, surrounded not only by his family but by the friends of his church with whom he had knit his life. Emma’s body gave in over time to stroke, but her spirit and story define a work of God that transcends the failure of marriage and touched many lives.

 

For Emma, mercy had triumphed over judgment decades before Gordon repented. Mercy triumphed with every prayer cast heavenward, every sin covered in love, every refusal to grow bitter. For Gordon, mercy meant getting what he didn’t deserve – the forgiveness of his sins, the love of his family, a home with the Savior, six God-honoring children, Emma’s life-long love of Christ. Each of these remarkable outcomes point to the triumphant sweetening effect of mercy – the remarkable mercy Emma received from God and lavished on her family.”

 

Taken from Dave Harvey’s book When Sinner’s Say I Do: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage (pages 77-78, 94-96).

What is Family Worship?

As a pastor, I have discovered that just the thought of “family worship” or “family devotions” can be overwhelming to Christian parents. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is because parents think they need to duplicate the Sunday morning worship service.  The reality is that family worship doesn’t have to be complicated.

Quite simply, family worship is the family coming together to worship God. The Puritans were big on this and called the family a “little church” of sorts. They believed that the worship of God should be a regular activity, not just something that happened on Sunday. Over the past few years, we have tried to make family worship part of our daily routine. Our three kids are still pretty young so it can be a challenge, but it has also been a great blessing to our family. I can almost guarantee you that if you start doing family worship, it will have a unifying effect on your family and will draw you closer to the Lord.

There are many ways of doing family worship, but there are a few key elements that I would like to highlight for you. Husbands and fathers, as head of the family (Ephesians 5:23, 1 Corinthians 11:3) take the initiative to call the family together for worship. Begin by reading a portion of Scripture. It doesn’t have to be long, but I would encourage you to work through a book of the Bible. One day you can read half a chapter or a chapter, and then next day you can pick it up where you left off. After reading a portion of Scripture, ask the kids a few questions that pertain to the reading. Help them understand what God is saying through His Word. Don’t think you need to preach a sermon every time you have family worship, but it is your responsibility to expose your children to the word of God (Ephesians 6:4).

Next, grab a hymnal or a church songbook and sing a couple worship songs. Most kids love to sing so compliance will not be an issue here. Finally, finish off your time of worship in prayer. Offer God your praises, petitions, and thanksgivings together as a family in prayer. In these two things (praise and prayer), you are responding to God’s revelation, goodness, and mercy. If you are not already practicing family worship, I would encourage you to start. Our family worship times usually only last 10-15 minutes so it doesn’t have to be long. The important thing is to get started and to allow the Lord to direct you.

If you are a couple without any kids, then it goes without saying that you can still have times of family worship. You just have more freedom to worship in a manner that suits you. I would say the same thing to grandparents. Your kids may have left many years ago, but that shouldn’t stop you and your spouse from studying God’s Word and worshipping together. When you visit the grandkids, do what you can to teach them the Bible (Deuteronomy 6:7) and to model a life of worship. Lastly, for those of you who are single, find another person to worship together with on a regular basis through one to one meetings. I would suggest a similar format – studying God’s Word – dialogue – prayer, and even praise if you are so inclined.

I have come back to this quote from Paul Tripp again and again, “God designed our spiritual lives to be a community project.” Whether it is our immediate family, our church family, or the global family of God, God has placed us together. We grow together, we worship together, we rejoice together, and we weep together. What a brilliant plan! But it only works if we come together for the glory of God.

Is Male Leadership Simply a Result of the Fall?

Many people argue that male leadership (in the home and church) is simply a result of the fall of man and not as God originally intended things to be. John Piper disagrees and responds in this way.

Nine evidences in Genesis 1-5 that man’s leadership is an order of creation and not a result of the fall:

  1. The creation of man and woman equally in God’s image but with a representative leadership function implied for the man (Genesis 1:26-27).
  2. Man is created first, then the woman (Genesis 2:7, 18). Man goes ahead (leads) in creation and is given that same leadership function in life. Paul picks up on this in 1 Timothy 2:13.
  3. Man is given the moral teaching for governing the garden to pass on to the woman (Genesis 2:15-17). God gives these instructions to Adam with the assumption that he is to pass them on to Eve.
  4. Woman was created “from man” and presented as a helper “fit (suitable) for him” (Genesis 2:18-23). Woman is to come alongside man and partner with him in serving the Lord.
  5. Man names woman (Genesis 2:23). Naming is a significant leadership function. For example, parents name their children.
  6. The serpent undermines the roles ordained by God and draws Eve and Adam into a deadly role reversal with God and each other (Genesis 3:1-6). Satan targeted Eve in the deception. Adam was “with her” (verse 6) when she gave of the fruit of the tree but he did not stop her.
  7. God calls the man to account first, not the woman (Genesis 3:7-9). This is one of the clearest evidences. God did not go to Eve first even though she was originally deceived by Satan.
  8. The curse of “Desire” and “Rule” show the futility of role corruption (Genesis 3:16b).
  9. God named man and woman man (Genesis 5:1-3). This is why it’s good for married couples to have the husband’s last name.

Adapted from lesson four of What’s The Difference: Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible. A DVD small group study by John Piper.

10 Purposes of Marriage

1. Companionship: “Then the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18). “Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet?” (Amos 3:3).

 

2. Enjoyment: “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth” (Proverbs 5:18). “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled” (Hebrews 13:4).

 

3. Completeness: “And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man He made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man (Adam) said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:22-24).

 

4. Fruitfulness: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:28). “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments! His offspring will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed” (Psalm 112:1-2).

 

5. Protection:

A. The husband is to protect the wife by laying down his life for her. “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).  B. The wife is to protect the home. “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” (Titus 2:3-5).

 

6. Typify Christ and the Church: Marriage is to be a human object lesson of the divine relationship between Christ and believers. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32).

7. Sanctification: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3) It will be readily acknowledged that living in close proximity with another person has a way of exposing our warts and bumps and bruises (in short, our sin). We see our own pride and selfishness in ways we can’t when isolated. God can and will use this to make us more like Jesus and to give us victory over indwelling sin.

8. Support and Trust: “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil….a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9,12). “An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain” (Proverbs 31:10-11).

9. Mutual Honor and Respect: “Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel” (1 Peter 3:7). “Let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Ephesians 5:33).

10. The Glory of God: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36). “in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11). This is the goal of everything, including marriage.

The Relationship Between Sex and Knowing Christ

“Sexuality is designed by God as a way to know God in Christ more fully.  Knowing God in Christ more fully is designed as a way of guarding and guiding our sexuality.”  So argues John Piper in his book “Sex and the Supremacy of Christ.”

In order to help the reader better understand what he means, he restates these two points negatively.  “All misuses of our sexuality distort the true knowledge of Christ.  All misuses of our sexuality derive from not having the true knowledge of Christ.” Still a little fuzzy?  Try this one:  “All sexual corruption serves to conceal the true knowledge of Christ, but the true knowledge of Christ serves to prevent sexual corruption.”

To say that the purpose of sex is intense physical pleasure for husband and wife along with procreation would not be wrong, but Piper takes us beyond a basic understanding of sex to its deeper meaning.  Too often Christians have a distorted view of sex, having been more influenced by the world than by the Scriptures.  In some circles, the topic of sex is taboo and we forget that the Bible is not silent when it comes to this subject.  I remember one of my professors in seminary giving us his own personal paraphrase to Genesis 1:28, which the ESV translates, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.”  My professor’s paraphrase went something like this: “Have sex and have lots of it!”  All humor aside, God created sex and it is clearly a “good” thing, when it happens in its proper, God-ordained context – marital love.

Few Christians would argue that God intends for us to know Christ more fully.  Paul even said in Philippians 3:10, “I want to know Christ.”  So how can we know Christ more fully?  A typical evangelical response might go something like this – through prayer, bible study, fellowship, and worship and through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.  But let’s return to Piper and his thesis – “Sexuality is designed by God as a way to know God in Christ more fully.”  Perhaps we could now add sex to the list.

Piper writes, “God created us in his image, male and female, with personhood and sexual passions, so that when he comes to us in this world there would be these powerful words and images to describe the promises and pleasures of our covenant relationship with him through Christ.  God made us powerfully sexual so that he would be more deeply knowable.  We were given the power to know each other sexually so that we might have some hint of what it will be like to know Christ supremely.  Therefore, all misuses of our sexuality (adultery, fornication, illicit fantasies, masturbation, pornography, homosexual behavior, rape, sexual child abuse, bestiality, exhibitionism, and so on) distort the true knowledge of God.  God means for human sexual life to be a pointer and foretaste of our relationship with him.”

One of the ways this can be illustrated is in Genesis 4.  “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain.”  Adam’s knowledge of his wife obviously refers to sexual intercourse.  There is a much deeper intimacy and knowledge that comes through sex than through any other type of relationship, which is why God has reserved this privilege for those who are married and have become “one flesh.”  Husband and wife have the great privilege of growing in this “knowledge” for the rest of their earthly lives together. And as Piper stated earlier, God intends for sexuality to be a pointer and a foretaste of our relationship with him.  God does not intend for us to simply know things about him.  I have met Christians who equate knowledge of God with knowing facts about the bible and being able to quote scripture by memory.  In contrast to that, God’s desire for His children is that they might move beyond mere “head knowledge” to a deep and intimate knowledge of their Creator.

To be sure, marital love is only a foretaste of what awaits God’s children at the coming of their Savior, but what a powerful reminder it is!  As it says in 1 John 3:2, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”

So what does knowing Christ have to do with guarding and guiding our sexuality?

To quote once again from John Piper, “not only do all the misuses of our sexuality serve to conceal or distort the true knowledge of God in Christ, but it also works powerfully the other way around: the true knowledge of God in Christ serves to prevent the misuses of our sexuality.  So, on the one hand, sexuality is designed by God as a way to know Christ more fully.  And, on the other hand, knowing Christ more fully is designed as a way of guarding and guiding our sexuality.”

Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:3.  “But among you there must not even be a hint of sexual immorality, or any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.” Christians know that sexual purity is important, but we also know that it is a challenge, given our toxic culture.  There are temptations all around and it’s easy for our purity to be compromised. The solution is not to simply give in and say “everyone is doing it so it’s ok.” The solution is to flee from the temptation and trust that God will provide a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13).  As Paul writes, “This is the will of God, your sanctification: That you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles, who do not know God.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5)  Notice how at the end of that passage we are told that the Gentiles “do not know God.”  In contrast, those who know God are committed to sanctification – to pleasing God in everything they do, including their sexuality.

As Piper concludes, “If the Scripture teaches that truly knowing God – truly knowing Christ – guards and guides and governs our sexuality in purity and love, then we may be sure that anyone whose sexuality is not governed and guarded and guided in purity and love does not know God – at least not as he ought.”

The Gift of Marriage

Stephane and I were married four years ago today – July 26th, 2008. I am grateful to God for my wife and I would like to share some of the things I have learned from our marriage:

1. The importance of praying together.  Steph and I pray together every day. As the saying goes, “couples that pray together, stay together.” Praying together is a constant reminder that Christ must be at the center of our marriage. I love our wedding theme verse: “a triple-braided cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

2. How much God loves us.  Marriage is to be a reflection of the type of love and intimacy we can have with God. Just like the marital relationship, our Lord desires that we enjoy a deep knowledge of Him, not just a superficial knowledge. In this sense, it is amazing to me how instructive marriage can be when it comes to our relationship with the Lord.

3. I am a sinner.  Ok, ok, I guess I knew that before.  But marriage has a way of exposing all those warts and ugly character traits that we used to be able to hide. After a few years of marriage, I am much more aware of my own selfishness, pride, and sinfulness in general than ever before.

4. As head of our home, I have a lot more responsibilities.  It used to be that I only had to look out for myself and my own interests.  Now I have a family that I am responsible for.  Obviously, this is a huge change from my pre-marriage days, but at the same time it is a good change. And even though I am the head of our home (1 Corinthians 11:3), there have been many times where the Lord has told me – LISTEN TO HER – SHE IS MY GOOD GIFT TO YOU! These are the moments where I must submit (Ephesians 5:21) and listen to my wife.  All honest husbands will affirm the need for this.

5.  The Lord takes care of us.  There have been many issues that we have had to deal with in our relationship (just like any couple), but the Lord has taken care of us every step of the way.  God has brought us to a new level of faith we could have never anticipated four years ago. To God be the glory, great things he has done!

6.  Our love keeps growing over time.  Before we got married, it was hard to imagine loving Stephane any more than I already did. But after four years of marriage, I can honestly say our love for one another just keeps on growing. This is a reminder that our love for the Lord should also keep growing and multiplying.

To summarize, marriage is a gift from God and can be incredibly rewarding when you keep Christ at the center of it. I am not saying there won’t be trials and difficulties along the way, but a Christ-centered couple can always trust that God will see you through and give you grace in your time of need.