Reblog: You Were Meant For This (a reflection for parents)

Originally posted 7 years ago and written sometime before that…still a good reminder, to myself.  Although my children are much older now, I still need to be reminded of this greater reality…


File under:  Things you were not told about parenting.  Children and privacy.  I never thought and was never told that children would completely change notions of privacy.  Essentially it becomes non-existent, especially during waking hours.  It is not an unusual occurrence to have our whole family, including the cat, in our tiny bathroom.  I suppose I should be encouraged that my children want to be in my presence, but everywhere, all the time?  No one told me…there actually are quite a few things that I was not prepared for when it comes to being a parent  (e.g. infants and toddlers do not observe daylight savings time; they wake up regardless of what the clock says).   Of course nothing prepares you for being a parent like being a parent.  Experience is a strong and unrelenting teacher.

All of this can be overwhelming, but I think it leads to a larger question.  Are our difficulties with our children rooted in a misunderstanding of who is for whom?  That is, are we meant for our children, or are our children meant for us.  Often times our behavior and our attitude would point to us thinking that children are really meant for us.  This may take several forms of course:  children may exist to fill an emotional need, to entertain us, to allow us a second chance at life or sports or school or whatever we lacked or failed at, or even just to stay quiet and out of the way.  Even in Hollywood, babies seem to be the new celebrity status symbol.  It is not wrong to want children, it is wrong to want them for the wrong reasons.  And it is wrong to treat them as objects or possessions when they are present.

Read the words of Walter Wangerin, Jr. in the introduction of his book Little Lamb who made thee? : A book about Children and Parents on this point:

Children do not exist to please us.  They are not for us at all.  Rather, we exist for them – to protect them now and to prepare them for the future.  Who is given unto whom?  Are we a gift to their elders?  No – not till children are grown and their elders are older indeed.  Then they are a gift of the fourth commandment, honoring hoary head which have begun to feel past honor.  But until then, it is we who are given, by God’s parental mercy, to the children!  And it is we who must give to the children – by lovely laughter, by laughter utterly free, and by the sheer joy from which such laughter springs – the lasting memory:  You are, you are, you are, my child, a marvelous work of God!

I am both surprised at times at the depth of my love for my children, but at other times I am surprised at the depth of desire for my own comfort.  I really shouldn’t be surprised at either I suppose, as one reflects the Father’s work in my life and the other that remaining sin and idolatry within my own heart.  At times I have my priorities straight, at others I have them reversed.  The prayer then has to be, that the Lord would help us to understand those times when we act as if our children should be doing something for us or even when may resent their presence and that He would change our hearts to reflect Wangerin’s statement above.

It seems to me that the blessing of being a grandparent is the ability to know without reservation, who is for who?  Most grandparents know, intrinsically, that they exist for their grandchildren and therefore delight in the opportunities to observe, include, be barged in on, etc…by their grandchildren.  The negative of this may lie in the tendency of grandparents to spoil their children – this goes to far to another other extreme.  That said, you have to love the unabashed love that most grandparents are willing show towards their grandchildren.

Another thing that changes when you become a parent is the way that you react to the sufferings of children, especially those who are of the same age as our children.  Our heartstrings can really be pulled when we see an infant or toddler suffering from ill health or from sins perpetrated upon them.  A newspaper article from the Raleigh based News & Observer does this to me with an article on May 9th, 2004 (“Mom grows with Grant”, written by Vicki Cheng).  Jamie Howard was living the life she always wanted to live, but that changed with the birth of her second child.  A few months into Grant’s life, it became clear that something wasn’t right.  It was later discovered that Grant suffered a stroke in utero, which has had a profound affect on his mental and physical development.  What struck me the most in the article, more than hardship of little Grant, were the words of his parents, maybe because I relate to their position as parents.  Matt Howard said:  “The purpose of his life could be to change us.  God chose us to be his parents.”  And Jamie wrote in a letter to Grant:  “You remind me to live for the day, and stop worrying about the future.  I wish that my love could heal you…There has never been a moment in your short life when I doubted your were meant to be my son.  Thank you for being patient with me, as I learn to be your mother.”   Those words bring tears to my eyes every time I read them.  I pray for you and for me that it would not take a tragedy or health difficulty for us to get our priorities straight – for us to recognize that we were meant for our children.

Outdo One Another

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I wrote a little book designed to be an aid to ministry staff that work together, viewed especially through the lens of an Pastor and an Assistant or Associate Pastor.  I want to encourage co-laborers to strive together and to consider how they might “outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10).

This book can be purchased directly from the Publisher in all formats or you can purchase print or Kindle versions at Amazon.

Quick Quote: Look, Love, Lean

“The gospel message…first calls on us all to be realistic in facing and admitting our sinfulness, our weaknesses, our actual transgressions, and our consequent guilt before God; and then it addresses us, in God’s name, substantially as follows:

Look to Christ your loving Sin-Bearer and living Lord. Embrace him as your Savior and Master. And then in his presence resolve to leave behind the old life of conscious self-service, marred as it was by bitterness, self-pity, envy of others, and feelings of failure, in order that you may become his faithful – that is, faith-full – disciple, living henceforth, by his rules under your care.

Love Christ, in unending gratitude for his unending love to you. Labor to please him in everything you do. Let his love constrain, compel, command, comfort, and control you constantly, and, like Paul, stop regarding human approval as in any way important to you…

Lean on Christ and rely on him to supply through the Holy Spirit all the strength you need for his service, no matter how weak unhappy circumstances and unfriendly people may be making you feel at present…lean on Christ, the lover of your soul…”

~ J.I. Packer, Weakness is the Way

Quick Post: Scripture based Prayers

“They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life. And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him. And the LORD shut him in…The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the face of the waters.” Genesis 7:15-16, 18

Heavenly Father, Thank you for rescue from the flood of judgment against my sin and guilt through the Ark of your Son. Keep me in the safekeeping of that ship; shut me in that I might be kept by you, for you. And bring me safely to the new earth in due time.

“And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)

Heavenly Father, thank you for being well pleased with Your Son and His Work, so that you are well pleased with me. May I rest today in Your pleasure.

Reading the Word Effectively

This was originally published as a guest post on the preaching blog propreacher
Reading the Word

Photo credit: George Redgrave cc

One of the most important parts of the sermon is what happens before you preach: reading the text to the congregation. If you don’t do this, than you are robbing your congregation.  And by all means do not close your Bible after you finish reading. In doing so you subtly or not so subtly communicate that what comes after the reading is all about you and your message. Again, you are robbing your congregation.

So, how can we read God’s Word before the sermon effectively?

Here are some ways to do so:

1. Read with Authority:

Do you have something to say or not? The authority to proclaim God’s Word does not reside in the frail vessel, but in the Spirit who illumines hearts and opens eyes. If you do not believe in what you are reading, please exit stage left.

When you are confident in the Word and it’s transformative power, your congregation will experience real change.  God promises that His Word is powerful (Hebrews 4:12) and will not return empty (Isaiah 55:11-12).  Therefore, read with authority.

2. Read with Eye Contact:

Obviously, you lose eye contact when you read, but your goal should be to maintain some eye contact with your readers.  Hopefully, they have heads down following along, but you still should strive for connection.  In doing so, you help bridge the gap between pulpit and pew.

The way to accomplish this is twofold.  First, know thy text.  Hopefully by the time you are stepping into the pulpit you have spent ample time with your passage.

Secondly, “scoop the text”.  That is, read a little bit ahead and place in your mind.  You can do this with whole sentences and phrases.  Maintaining eye contact will assure the congregation that you are engaged with them.

3. Read with Intonation & Variation:

One of the cardinal sins of preaching is to bore your congregation. It can be deadly – ask Eutychus.  If you read the Word of God like you read the phone book, then you are doing it all wrong.

Different genres of Scripture require variation in speech. The Gospels read differently than Psalms, which read differently than Hosea. Even the same passage can do with some variation. For instance in Psalm 34, David opens with a call to worship that sores to the heavens and invites the listener to join in. But later, when you might lower your voice and speak more softly, David reminds us that the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and afflicted.

Sometimes God speaks with power and other times He whispers tenderly.  Let your reading reflect this awesome reality.

4. Read with Confidence:

Let’s be honest, there are some difficult passages full of strange names and places.  Even with knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, those passages can be intimidating.

I have heard a couple of unique approaches. You can read a few names and then skip to the end of your passage. Or you can just use initials to identify the people or places.

I would rather have you practice. The best way to do this is to listen to someone read the passage ahead of time. Max McClean is a wonderful reader of the Word. Also some websites have audio versions, like the online ESV Bible.  This will give you confidence when reading the Scriptures.

Remember, reading your passage is an important part of preaching.  When you read with authority, while maintaining eye contact, reading with intonation, and with confidence you invite your congregation into a sacred dance with the Lord of  the Word.  Don’t neglect this vital starting point of preaching.

Preaching the Whole Counsel

This post was originally written and published as a guest post on the Preaching blog propreacher

When I was 16 years old and still a babe in Christ, I once remarked that I didn’t need to read the Old Testament. I didn’t think you could find Christ in the Old Testament. How wrong I was!

I can blame my ignorance, in part, on not being raised in the Church and never hearing the Bible stories. I couldn’t distinguish Noah from Jonah. I was a functional Marcionite, long before I knew Marcion’s name.

Bible and shadow of Cross

Photo Credit: damianeva cc

A little history lesson: Marcion was an early church father, who served as the Bishop of Sinope and lived in the late first century until the middle second century.  He would be condemned by the other early Church Fathers. Why? He viewed the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament as competing deities. There was no grace to be found in the Old Testament.  He called the OT God by the name demiurge, a mere tribal deity of the Hebrews. This led to his rejection of the Old Testament Scriptures.

Unfortunately, our pews are full of many functional Marcionites. They just don’t see any use for the Old Testament. They don’t see Jesus.

We must lay the blame for that at the feet of pastors who consistently avoid preaching the Old Testament. I get it. It’s hard and there are many passages that create difficulties. How do we handle the annihilation of the Caananites, for example. But Jesus, on the Road to Emmaus gave us the big picture. He told us all of the Scriptures speak and lead to Him.

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

Luke 24:45-48, ESV

Keep in mind that the New Testament had not been written yet!

So, we have our marching orders. We cannot ignore the Old Testament. How then do we find balance in our preaching, so that we preach the whole counsel of God’s Word? Commit to preaching both Testaments.

I do this by alternating my preaching series between the two. I learned this from the pastor I worked under out of seminary and I am grateful for that leading. I preach expository series, but this can work with topical series too. Just make sure you draw on the full teaching of Scripture.

Even with special series, I try to alternate my preaching. So, at Advent I will preach the promise of the Coming of Christ one year and then the Reality the next. In so doing, I point my congregation to the full teaching of Scripture. I am committed to drilling Marcionism from their hearts.

Additionally, books by Biblical Theologians, like Graham Goldsworthy and Sidney Greidanus may help the preacher connect the redemptive story of Christ together.

Preacher, commit to preaching the whole counsel!

Quick Quote: J.C. Ryle

…the Prince of Peace is stronger than the king of terrors, and that though death, the last enemy, is mighty, he is not as mighty as the sinner’s Friend…Our Lord Jesus Christ never changes. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. His heart is still as compassionate as when He was upon earth. His sympathy with sufferers is still as strong . Let us bear this in mind, and take comfort in it. There is no friend or comforter who can be compared to Christ. In all our days of darkness, which must needs be many, let us first turn for consolation to Jesus the Son of God. He will never fail us, never disappoint us, never refuse to take interest in our sorrows. He lives, who made the widow’s heart sing for joy in the gate of Nain. He lives, to receive all laboring and heavy-laden ones, if they will only come to Him by faith. He lives, to heal the broken-hearted, and be a Friend that sticks closer than a brother. And He lives to do greater things than these one day. He lives to come again to His people, that they may weep no more at all, and that all tears may be wiped from their eyes.

From Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, commenting on Luke 7:11-17