Rediscovering Family Worship

Rediscovering the Lost Treasure of Family WorshipRediscovering the Lost Treasure of Family Worship by Jerry Marcellino
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Make it 4.49 stars. Really good.

"If fathers are daily experiencing the presence of God and growing in their love for Christ, it will be evidenced by their pastoral leadership in their homes. Surely then, public worship on the Lord's Day will be transformed by such vitality."

Marcellino takes a short 28 pages to give
- 4 reasons for family worship (strengthens family, church and state for the Lord),
- practical advice on getting started (consistency and flexibility)
- 3 key elements of family devotional time.

"Children, in their formative years, naturally look to their fathers in order to emulate them."
"A child can easily see when these [worldly] things are more exciting to his parents than devotion to Jesus Christ!"

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I recently completed a sermon series on Galatians. Several times in talking with other pastors I was asked, “So are you reading Galatians with a New Perspective or a traditional view?”

Nothing like an either-or question to enliven discussion! Here’s my answer.

First, to define the positions. The traditional view is that Paul is defending the individual justification of each believer by faith alone, apart from works-based, legalistic righteousness. The New Perspective is that Paul is arguing against circumcision being the boundary marker that excludes some from table fellowship for God’s people.

Evaluation: when we compare these views calmly, we should realize that there need be no fight, here. Both positions can be held in ways that do not reject the other. Holding both fills out the picture nicely. Galatians isn’t about corporate Israel’s boundary markers, OR an individual’s ground of his justification. Both are involved.

The hyper-ventilators in this debate assume that to hold to the traditional view, one must diminish to the point of irrelevance the immediate context of table fellowship (see Galatians 2:11-14). Or that to hold to the New Perspective, you have to say, “Paul is not talking about an individual’s justification, here.” There are plenty mistakes like this on both sides. Reading Luther’s commentary on Galatians, I finally had to put it down after a while. He is compelling on theology of justification and assurance, but he really stretches the exegesis to talk about only that throughout Galatians. Many anti-New Perspective folks do the same thing today. And New Perspective zealots can take obviously theological passages and try to turn the discussion to “table fellowship,” or “Jewish-Gentile relations.”

The key to resolving this is to realize that theology plays out in very practical ways, something the evangelical church has always had a hard time with. Now the church’s academia seems stuck here, too. The real theological underpinnings of justification by faith alone work their way out in how the church lives together. Galatians is really addressing the instrument of personal justification before God being faith and not works. And Paul is moving the Galatian church to fellowship with each other, over the boundary of circumcision, because they are all justified by the work of Christ.

So preaching Galatians is both theological and practical. Justification by faith is the foundation. Receiving people who differ from us but who believe in Christ is the fruit this doctrine is to bear in our lives.


Bringing the Gospel to Covenant Children

Bringing the gospel to covenant children: In dependency on the Spirit (Family guidance series)Bringing the gospel to covenant children: In dependency on the Spirit by Joel R. Beeke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Direct, practical instruction on how to raise children in godliness, day by day.
Sometimes, it's a little too pietistic, but overall a very illuminating booklet.
Read, and do. Start in on this with your family!

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Johnny Tremain

Johnny TremainJohnny Tremain by Esther Forbes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An excellent historical background to the War of Independence. Fills out the usually simplistic picture of popular opinion concerning the British, in a way young people can understand and relate to. Some British are friendly and winsome. Others were unjust and cruel. Still others were just serving their country and were not keen on subduing their colonial countrymen. Some Patriots were radical firebrands; others wanted to go slower and less aggressively. The tea party was painstakingly careful to destroy only the tea, leaving the rest of the cargo, and even cleaning the ships afterward. But it was also a pre-meditated act of destruction and rebellion, not a emotions-carried-away event.

Johnny learns to overcome adversity and gain confidence in himself. The personal character development is decent, with a little taste of the British decadence that went on.

Highly recommended.

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Face to Face with Islam

Christianity Face to Face with IslamChristianity Face to Face with Islam by Robert Louis Wilken
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Honest and historical look at Islam. A little short on solutions.

View all my reviews Only 30 pages, originally an article in First Things


Holidays and Traditions

As we consider how to live before God by faith in Jesus Christ, we must maintain a long-term, multi-generational vision. How do we want our grandchildren to serve the Lord? In a First Things magazine article, “Christianity Face to Face with Islam,” Robert Louis Wilken considers the rise and staying power of Islam since 700. How to fight it? “Energy and enthusiasm are no substitute for deep roots, vital and durable institutions, and a thick and vibrant culture.”

This is what we are after. We have come through a period of history watching Christian institutions (denominations, schools, churches, etc.) slide into liberalism, and we have lost much faith in institutions and traditions. We think the Reformation removed churchly authority, when it really put it in its proper place. This mindset includes our holidays. When we reject the holidays which the world commercializes, we are kicking out from under us the very stabilizing elements we need to build a Christian culture that can promote multi-generational faithfulness.

Family provides the primary, but not the sole means of cultural stability. Very few parents have all the resources they need themselves to raise their children to maturity. We buy curriculum, we go to church. We also celebrate holidays that we didn’t originate. We can strengthen the family by using “durable institutions, deep roots, thick culture.” Our annual feasts are one of those strands. There was wisdom in the annual feasts God gave Israel, but they are no longer binding on God’s people (Col 2:16), and the sacrifices embedded in them are now set aside (Heb 7-10). As the law has died and risen with Christ, so have these feasts. The principles of the law abide, and the church for 2000 years has cultivated this in tangible ways, one being Christmas.

The direct impact of a nuclear family upon a generation lasts about 20 years. If the children are faithful they carry it on for another 20 years with their own children. These “little platoons” are the foundation of society. Churches, schools, Boy Scouts, companies large and small, governments local and federal, and our holidays all are built upon, yet transcend, families. The direct impact of a faithful Christian institution like Harvard, the Presbyterian church or a government lasts an average of 80 or 100 years before going corrupt. They are a strata of society built upon the family that gets the whole building built. It needs constant remodeling, as family integrity is currently crumbling.

We can no longer look to the mainstream media for reliable and objective news. They have become too corrupt. As has Harvard. But we still need to find good news and good education. We just don’t have national examples that everyone can look to reliably. We need to look closer to home for good examples, and we aren’t used to doing that. So we think we have to do it all ourselves. But there are examples, in our church or neighborhood, or school, or homeschool co-op. We can no longer look to our culture for good direction on how to celebrate Christmas. There was a time the culture looked to the Church for that direction, but I wouldn’t recommend that today, honestly. And just at the time when we need a "thick culture" the most, we are rejecting traditions that can help us so much.

So let us treasure and uphold edifying human traditions like Christmas. This is why we have “Heritage” in our church name – it refers to our historical heritage passed on to us by our Church fathers. Such traditions are not binding upon us, but often useful in expressing our faith corporately, even if they aren’t commanded in Scripture. I believe Jesus Himself participated in such traditions (John 10:22-23). Does “Christmas” mean Christ mass, as in the Roman Catholic mass? Yes. This does not mean the holiday is hopelessly entwined with erroneous Roman doctrine – it is not. In fact the central fact of Christmas, the Son taking on human flesh, helps us fight the error that physical things work against the spiritual.

Let us give thanks for holidays that prompt us to remember the work of Christ on our behalf. Let us foster in our families an annual celebration of the gift God gave the world.


Duncan's War

Duncan's WarDuncan's War by Douglas Bond
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Pretty good. Historical fiction about Scottish uprising in 1666. I know little about this history. Previewing for my 10 and 8 year olds: the violence gets a little graphic. Maybe wait until 12?

There is a strong Scottish accent throughout, even with words like "ken" (know) and "dunnae" (do not) all over the place. Helped set the tone, but a little overdone.

The main theme was how to deal with oppression: not to respond with hate and violence, but with patience and love. Trusting God, but also preparing with earthly means. Seemed to capture what little I know of the Scottish mentality, when the English forced Anglicanism on them at this time. I especially liked the part where he learns to appreciate kneeling for prayer, and his Anglican friend takes the point that Jesus is the King of King Charles. Each could see the right and good in the opposing party, though they were at war.

Very good read for 10-12 year old boys.

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Family Worship

Family worship (Family guidance series)Family worship by Joel R Beeke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dr. Beeke details the what, why and how of family worship.

I am in basic agreement with the content of the book, but found myself leaning a different direction than Beeke. I agree family worship is a valuable outward means God uses to sanctify us. He gives a quick defense of leadership in the home, clearly lays out what is involved (reading Scripture, short comment and/or discussion on it, prayer, singing), and gives tips on what to avoid. All quite excellent.

Beeke's general goal is to move people toward more developed devotions than just reading some Scripture verses and prayer. This is good in itself, but with the pietism of the introspective Puritans that he follows, it can take an unhealthy turn. Buying into his outlook will usually lead to constant wondering if you're doing enough in family devotions to please God or effect change in your family. Not so good. I generally lean these days toward keeping it short enough to not be exasperating for my children. To his credit, Beeke also says this: "Family worship that is too long makes children restless and may provoke them to wrath." But the general gist of the booklet is that you should really be doing more. This article is a good counterpoint to Beeke's booklet.

So, I would want the average Christian father or mother to read this and learn from it - there is much wisdom and practical implementation packed into a short 25 pages. But I would also want to steer that father or mother away from unneeded guilt, clarifying that family worship is not specifically commanded in the Bible, and is a privilege more than an obligation. Family worship should grow organically from Godly, personal, affectionate leadership in the home, more than from a sense of duty (certainly not guilt) or a programmed checklist of tasks.

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Lives, not Laws

from "Can God Bless America?"
by John MacArthur
Tabletalk, Sept 2011

"Does our nation really desire God's blessing?.... or would the policy-makers and media moguls in our society be as hostile to such a revival as they are to the threat of terrorism?....

"What is needed is not merely moral reform but spiritual regeneration....

"Many churches are apparently more willing to imitate the world's fashions and opinions than to confront them with biblical truth. Meanwhile, Christians concerned about the moral evils of society often opt for all the wrong remedies - as if the only thing needed to cure the spiritual malaise of our nation were some kind of federal legislation against abortion, sexual promiscuity.... I am by no means opposed to legislative efforts to outlaw abortion... but political remedies to our nation's moral ills are no cure for the underlying spiritual problems.... Lives, not just laws, need to be transformed."


Blood on the River

Blood on the River: James Town 1607Blood on the River: James Town 1607 by Elisa Carbone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an excellent historical fiction account of Jamestown's settling.
The first chapter (5 pages) is fictional backstory of the main character, and more graphic in description of his difficult upbringing than I cared for. I might have our 10 and 8 year old skip it. But the rest is pure gold.

It depicts the faults and merits of the English and of the Indians with historical accuracy and without bias, in my opinion. Very good to get children thinking about the complicated situation of settling a new land. Religious, political and economic motivation were all naive, but real.

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On voting

Today is a general election day in the state of Virginia. I voted for state senators and representatives who serve in Richmond. Kind of depressing how much of the campaigning revolves around how much funding they can bring to our area, instead of to the rest of the state. Still, in my district there was a clear choice between more limited-government, pro-business candidates and "watchdog to keep business fair" candidates.

Vote, Virginians!

How old?!

I just learned that the oldest member of the Lewis and Clark expedition was 35 years old. Starting to feel old myself...


Right Ho, Jeeves!

Right Ho, JeevesRight Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Read this out loud to my wife for the second time in our marriage. Solid 4.49 stars.
Very funny.
You have missed much in life if you have not read PG Wodehouse.
Good lessons on how to deal with people and not be a fathead, on the way to uproarious hilarity.

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Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods

Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods (Underland Chronicles, #3)Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I read this (and the 2nd book, Prophecy of Bane) to preview for my kids. The cover makes it look worse than it is, content-wise. The violence is PG - ish, though. As a 3rd in a series, filling in the backstory from earlier books was done clumsily. There were vague references in the plot to Middle East conflicts and biological warfare. Nothing insidious. Talks against growing up being taught to hate certain other groups.

This same author went on to write "The Hunger Games," for older kids and much more violent. I do NOT recommend that series. This series is a level better, but not classic, must-read. It IS edifying for kids to sort through feelings they have of hurt, pain, hate, love, forgiveness, cooperation.

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Meditation on Psalm 146

I'm passing this on from another CREC church, in Spokane, WA. An elder there exhorted that congregation with these words a few Sundays ago. I thought it was very timely, given the point in the election cycle we are in.

Today, let us consider the sin of putting our trust in men and not in our Lord Jesus.
Psalm 146:3  says this “Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.”
Let me ask you a a question:
“How much control did the believers of the New Testament have over the government that ruled them?”  The answer is not very much.
Here is another question, “What accusation did the non-believing world make against the Christians of the first century?”
In Acts 17:6  “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too.”
How could this be?
You mean that the Caesars of the first century were not Christians? 
Was there was not a Christian/conservative majority in the Roman senate? 
How could the New Testament church ever have turned the world upside down without any hand on the political steering wheel? 
Could it be that their faith was in our sovereign God?
Today, in 2011, in the United States, we are well into another election cycle.  The debates were last week and there is lots of spin. 
We have to be very careful to guard our hearts and not reduce the Christian faith down to a political movement. 
The gospel is not about getting the lesser of two evils into the White House.
The gospel is not control of the Supreme Court or Congress.
If we had all these things, what would we really have?  
We are not going to legislate people into the kingdom.  
We will still have a nation of people that are slaves to their sin.
Our Lord Jesus is the true Liberator.  He came to set the captives free. He is the truth, the very truth that sets us free.

Brothers and sisters, put your trust in Him.


The Bible in 700 words

The story of the Bible is true.

God made the world. Adam and Eve died inside when they sinned. God had mercy and kept them alive physically, promising a redeemer. Mankind grew worse. God judged them in a flood, but saved 8 in an ark.

God promised Abraham to bless world through his descendant. He believed what he could not see. His family was faithful but flawed, like each of us. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, but God used it to feed the world.

Egypt oppressed Israel, and God came down and delivered them. He fed His wandering people for 40 years, sometimes faithful, usually rebellious. He gave them bread, gave them His Word.

He brought them into the promised land with Joshua’s leadership, punishing the sinful nations there with destruction. Israel worshiped other gods, and God afflicted them so they would turn back to Him. When they repented, He sent judges to save them.

They asked for a king, again not trusting God to deliver them. God gave them Saul, who stumbled and fell, then David, who stumbled and stood by grace. God revealed more of His plan of redemption at this point – it would be Abraham’s descendant through whom God would bless the world. And it would be David’s son who would sit on the throne forever. God used David, Solomon and the priests in their time to give us Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon.

Israel did not stay faithful to God after David died. Solomon was wealthy and wise, but a womanizer who worshiped idols. The kingdom was torn apart and kings followed Solomon’s pattern, allowing idolatry, treason against the God who made and redeemed them. Prophets came and spoke to these kings, but they trusted in military might and political alliances instead of God. They allowed oppression of the poor and injustice among God’s own people, against His clear Word.

So God judged them with conquest and exile. They were killed or carted off to other lands for a time. But God had plans to prosper them in the next generation. A faithful remnant returned, rebuilt Jerusalem, and restored the worship of God. Nehemiah defended Israel against opposition while Ezra taught the Word of God. Malachi and Daniel prophesied of a coming Messiah, after other kingdoms rise and fall.

After 400 years, in the fullness of time, God came to Zechariah and Elizabeth and gave them John. God overshadowed Mary and gave the world Jesus, because He loved us so much, so that whoever believes in Him can have life, even though we have been spiritually dead since birth.

Jesus grew into, learned, lived and taught the Torah, the law and ways of God. He was baptized by the Spirit to preach the kingdom of God. He went hungry for 40 days in the desert, and emerged to give bread and life to Israel. His brothers rejected Him and handed him over to pagans. He died on a Roman cross, to keep all the promises He had made as God to Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Mary, and many others. Promises to give His people an eternal king and liberator from the tyranny of the devil and their own sinfulness. He rose 3 days later to show everyone this is true, and to give us life in His life.

He trained the disciples, ascended to heaven, and sent the Spirit, equipping the apostles to go into all the nations, baptizing and teaching them to truth and obey Jesus. They took His message to the Jews, the Samaritans, and the Gentiles, finding faith and persecution everywhere they went. The Bible ends with Paul under Roman house arrest preaching Christ, and John under arrest for the same reason. But John is given the final revelation of how God, the author of history, will bring it to conclusion. He will instruct His church, give ample time to all to repent, protect and vindicate His people, judge the wicked, and finally bring His people to His Son for a wedding feast. He will restore joy where there was sorrow, laughter where there were tears, purity where there was sin, peace where there was misery.

That is the story of the Bible. That is what we believe.


Halloween post-mortem

In response to the, "I'm against Halloween" position:

I don't think Halloween was "conceived in evil." Every culture finds a way to cope with death. American Halloween is a McDonald's pop-culture version of a mix between All Hallow's (All Saints') Eve and the world's morbid fascination with death, sorcery and the macabre. Of course lots of bad things are toyed with at Halloween. Yes, it is dangerous for secular people to toy with the occult. Of course, we shouldn't dress up like we're on Satan's "team." This doesn't mean total rejection of the holiday is the best approach for the church. Reform it to the intent the church had for it. Why not celebrate the saints, and that we can triumph over and jeer all these evil powers, which really do exist? Far better to address them and ridicule them, than to run and hide from them, as if the victory is not won at the cross of Christ (Colossians 2:15). I'd rather show the world that victory and triumph, than show them we're against it and don't do it.

What's hardest to take is when all the "I'm against Halloween" person can hear from my above paragraph is that I'm just more worldly than they are. Sigh.