Barack Obama, Mark Driscoll, Emily Heath, and Walking in the Light

I received a message from an old friend asking for my thoughts on this article by Rev. Emily Heath. As I began to write, it struck me that it might be worth sharing here. In the interests of transparency, Mark Driscoll is a man I respect. He is a man who has had an impact on my life. Sometimes, he makes waves and recently he did so with this tweet concerning the faith of US President Barack Obama. Anyways, here’s my response in a nutshell to the whole hoopla…

The first thing I’ll say is this: as President Obama claims to be a Christian, then by definition he is called to account for how he lives and practices his faith in light of God’s word. Heath is mistaken to say that the conversation should stop with Barack Obama’s confession of faith, though it is clever rhetoric. By stopping the conversation at a confession of faith, Heath – and all who follow her in this logic – are able to keep at arms length both the Bible and anyone who dare question the validity of another’s faith in light of their actions. When you take such logic to its conclusion, what this effectively means is that a believer can do whatever they want and no one can can dare hold them to account because its between the individual and God.

This is not how the Bible sees it. The Christian is called to a life of walking in the light with a community of fellow believers who have the responsibility to ask hard questions about a person’s life of faith, to call sin for what it is, and to gently and humbly seek repentance in one another. Paul talks about this Gal 6:1-5  in reference to Christians holding each other to account showing that Christians are called to make judgments on each other light of their faith lining up with their actions (see also 1 Cor 5). We are also told to test our own faith to make sure it is genuine in 2 Cor 13:5-10. So there is both personal responsibility and communal accountability in the life of faith. In the last line of her article, Heath removes the role of the faith community in a believer’s life completely. This is a fatal move that does not stand up to the scrutiny of Scripture.

So when you get down to the nitty-gritty, in all honesty, how does Pres. Obama’s pro-choice, pro-gay marriage stance really line up with the Bible? Can one claim to be a Christian and affirm something the Bible clearly condemns as sin? I don’t think so. And if one does claim to be a Christian and affirm something the Bible clearly condemns as sin, should they not be held to account by fellow believers? I would hope so. Now the question then is should Driscoll be the guy to do this through a Twitter update? I’d say probably not. But I would hope that someone in Barack Obama’s own church – a pastor, a friend, an advisor – would have the spine to challenge him about such things, but then again, to use Heath’s own rhetoric, “In the end, the only two authorities on Barack Obama’s relationship with God are Barack Obama and God. I’m not either of the two. And so that’s where the discussion ends.” Or in other words, Who are we to judge if its between the individual and God?

In sum, should Driscoll have posted what he did? Perhaps not. But Emily Heath is also off base with her radical individualizing of the faith. The community of faith does have a role to play in the life and faith of the believer. Barack Obama, Mark Driscoll, Emily Heath, myself, and all who would lay claim to being Christians would do well to both test their own faith in light of 2 Cor 13:5 and allow other believers to test our faith to hold us to account as per Gal 6:1-5 with the goal of repenting from sin, walking in holiness, and bringing glory to God.

Various Resources for Family Worship Devotions

One of the biggest reasons so many men struggle to lead their families in devotions and worship is a lack of resources and simply not knowing where to look. The truth is, there are an abundance of great resources to help dad grow in the faith in order to lead family devotions, as well as resources for doing family devotions. Below are some recommendations to help kick start building a library to help your family engage in meaningful worship.

Also note that if you are more of an audio learner, many Bible colleges and seminaries are now making curriculum available online for free, including through iTunes U (look for Covenant Theological Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary through iTunes;  they are two of the best at present). Also worth checking out is Biblical Training.

If you have any other recommendations, feel free to post them in the comments.

Help for Reading the Bible:

Children’s and Young Peoples’ Bibles:

Help for Building a Theological Library:

Basic Theology:

Practical Helps for Parents:

Music

Helpful Tips for Family Worship

Over the last two days I have discussed why family devotions are so hard, and why they are so important. Today I want to offer a few tips to help establish a meaningful and fruitful ritual of family worship in your own home. I am by no means an expert in this and am still growing in this discipline so feel free to contribute your own thoughts in the comments.

  1. Use an age appropriate Bible. If you think that breaking out your calfskin ESV Study Bible or Greek New Testament will impress your kids you are wrong. If you have toddlers use something like the Jesus Storybook Bible or the Big Picture Story Bible. Both are great for young kids and their simple structure lend themselves to family devotions very well. If you have teens, use a student Bible and even ask them to lead a devotional occasionally.
  2. Use age appropriate music. You may be into the grandest hymns or choruses but your kids need something a little more their level. Seeds Family Worship has some great material that can be helpful. What we need to remember is that just as God condescended for our benefit by becoming a man in Jesus, so we can condescend for the sake of our children. We serve them in humility as Christ served us.
  3. Keep it short and simple. If things get too complicated, it won’t last. Remember, you aren’t trying to conduct a full scale church service here. Our current family worship time happens after dinner and lasts no more than 15-20 minutes. This is more than enough time to read the Bible, sing a song, and pray together.
  4. Pick a regular time. If you’re a morning family and you can get everyone out of bed at reasonable hour for breakfast and family worship before moving on with your day, then great. For my family, the time immediately after dinner works best. Dishes and bath time can wait 15 minutes for the sake of intimate family worship.
  5. Involve everyone as they are able. This means if you have teenagers, they should be able to take leadership of the devotional every now and then. If you have pre-teens, they should certainly be participating actively in the discussion. It is important for mum and dad to facilitate their children’s involvement at this age. We have a two-year-old and a two-month at the moment, so their participation is limited, but they do see communication between mum and dad, and we do ask our two-year-old questions in the hopes of getting some responses soon.
  6. Don’t fret if you miss a day. Sometimes things happen that we have to deal with. If you miss a day, pick up where you left off the next day and don’t look back. As this is a new habit that my family is developing we are aiming for every day, but we will be happy if we can make it work 3-4 times a week.
  7. Always bring it back to Jesus. The danger with family worship and devotional times is that they can become moralistic and religious in the worst possible senses. More than teaching morals, we want our kids to love Jesus and that has to be the goal. By keeping Jesus and the gospel central, we are all reminded of our need for grace, and that we love him because he first loved us. Our joy and obedience will flow only from experiencing the grace, love, and mercy that is found in Christ.

What else has worked for you in your family devotions. Let us know in the comments below.

Why Family Devotions are so Important

After writing about why family devotions are so hard yesterday, today I want to focus on why they are so important. We live in a day when all sorts of media and personalities are fighting for our attention. If as a father I leave my wife and children to their own devices and circumstances they will inevitably be discipled by any number of people, products, TV shows, and the like.  Some of them will be positive, more of them less so, but at the end of the day it is my responsibility as the husband and father of the house to make sure that Jesus is always at the centre of the family home. Here then are seven reasons why regular family worship and devotions are so vital to the health and well-being of a Christian family.

  1. Regular family devotions teach the man of the house to lead spiritually. All sorts of life values are taught and propagated in schools and in the media and the bottom line is that many of those values run contrary to Scripture. For example, if I as a Christian dad leave it to the schools to teach my children about sexuality, I am doing my children an enormous disservice and leaving them open to all sorts of lies and temptation. If however our family are in the Bible regularly we can talk about God’s plan for sex and marriage, answer questions that our children have and show the value of pursuing a godly legacy over a fleeting pleasure.
  2. Regular family devotions teach our children that worship and Word matter during the week and not just on Sunday. If the only time God’s Word is taught to our family is on Sunday, we run the risk of becoming Sunday Christians: Sunday is our spiritual day, but Monday through Saturday we get to do whatever we want with no thought of God whatsoever. Jesus however calls us to take up our cross daily, not just on Sunday’s. The Word and worship are for life and not just weekends and our wives and children must see that in our lives.
  3. Regular family devotions protect the family from false teaching and doctrine. It is not uncommon for cults such as the JW’s and Mormons to be door knocking on houses while dad as at work leaving mothers and their children vulnerable to false Bible teaching. If dad is a good theologian and is in the Word often with his family, he can tackles such problems head on in a timely manner and protect his family from false teaching and spiritualities. This does not of course exempt mum from knowing her Bible but it does mean that ultimately the buck stops with dad to make sure his family know the Bible well enough to refute false doctrine in a timely manner.
  4. Regular family devotions teach everyone that man does not live on bread alone but on the very Word of God. We all to easily forget that all good gifts come from God, but slowing down on a regular basis to bring the Bible to bear on our family’s lives provides a golden opportunity to express thankfulness for his provision and providence in all of life’s circumstances.
  5. Leading family devotions encourages quick repentance and growth in humility. There is no better way to keep short accounts with God and with our families than by leading family worship on a regular basis. Without confession and repentance we have no grounds for leading our families spiritually, so if family worship is to be an ongoing feature of our family life, I have to be quick to confess and repent. This is a great model for our wives and children to follow and builds trust and integrity into familial relationships. “If dad is free to confess/repent and ask for forgiveness, then so can we.”
  6. If we are quick to confess and repent of sin then regular family devotions also open up the door for loving discipline and discipleship on a daily basis, not just when the junk hits the fan because we create daily opportunities and teaching moments that may otherwise only come out in times of crisis. In this sense sins and other issues can be nipped in the bud and worked on as a family and not just in solitude.
  7. Regular family devotions remind us that ultimately Jesus is the centre of all things, including the family; not dad, not mum, and not the kids. When Jesus is at the centre, everything else finds its proper place and life begins to find a rhythm and order that brings glory and honour to our Lord and God, Jesus Christ. Trials and temptations may come, but if we remain anchored in Christ, we have a deep well of grace to draw from in all times and especially in our times of need.

Can you think of other benefits to regular family devotions and worship? How has this special time impacted your life and family? What are some of the challenges that you have faced as you’ve worked to bring the Word and worship into your home?

Why are Family Devotions so Hard?

One of my commitments as a husband and father this new year is to get my family together for regular devotional and worship time after dinner. But here’s the thing, as a guy with a pastoral background who has preached sermons on a regular basis since 2007, I can tell you that I find it harder to do family worship in the home than I do to preach in front of 200+ people on any given Sunday. Why is that? Here I offer seven reason why I think men in particluar struggle when it comes to leading the family in the Word and in worship.

  1. Many men don’t know their Bible, and/or don’t have the resources to help them know their Bible, and/or don’t know where or how to go about getting those resources. I’ve had several conversations over the years with good guys who love Jesus but admit that they have a hard time getting into the Word on a regular because they simply felt overwhelmed by the task and didn’t know where to begin or what resources might be useful. If husband/dad isn’t getting into the Word, it is unlikely his family is being effectively discipled.
  2. Leading family devotions takes time to prepare. Many of us struggle to make time for prayer and regularly Bible reading by ourselves in light of work and extra-curricular activities. How much more so when it comes to engaging in the activity as a family?
  3. Many men simply don’t know how to lead a family devotion because they’ve never seen it done and don’t know where or how to begin. As a result they may start out with a grand plan and the best of intentions but unfortunately it is so complicated that there is no chance of enduring success, or worse, they never get started at all.
  4. Another difficulty is the question of timing. When is the best time for the whole family? First thing in the morning? After breakfast? Sometime during dinner? This is all the more difficult when other family members have various commitments making it hard to eat together, let alone worship together.
  5. Perfectionism. Some men don’t get started or keep up because if they can’t do perfectly, they won’t do it at all. “If I can’t teach like Pastor Whats-his-face then whats the point?”
  6. Often times general busyness gets in the way. Rushing out the door for work, or rushing to get chores done and the kids in bed takes precedence over slowing down a few minutes to spend time with the Lord as a family.
  7. My family know my sin. When I preach for 200+ people, most of the congregation don’t know the kind of week I’ve had but my wife and kids do. They’ve seen the sin, they’ve seen the folly, they’ve seen the hypocrisy. The hardest thing to do is lead family worship when everyone knows what’s gone on that day: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

What about you? Why do you struggle to lead family worship? What holds you back? What has helped you succeed or make progress?

In my next few posts, I’ll offer some reasons why family worship is so important, some tips for making family worship more do-able, and offer some resources to help you along the way.

Fans or Followers?

With the new year upon us, many of us will begin reading our Bibles with renewed vigor following a plan that we hope to stick to throughout the year. While many have offered a number of excellent plans to work through (Justin Taylor has a helpful list here), my concern is not so much how much Bible I get through (though this year, I hope to get through a lot) , but whether or not my understanding of the text is faithful to what is actually written. Am I being true to text as it presents itself? I say this because it is amazing how often a small passage of Scripture that initially appears to be so easy to understand is actually far deeper and more complicated than we first expected. Case in point: a friend of mine a while back had to preach from Matthew 4:23-25 for a seminary class and he titled his sermon “You Want Me to do What?” Here are the verses below:
 
23 And he [Jesus] went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan (Matt 4:23-25 ESV).
 

My friend’s basic premise was that because Jesus was teaching, preaching, and healing, then we as his disciples should do likewise. By his own admission, he said he didn’t have enough time to prepare the sermon and as such he only approached the text at face value. In doing so he made a common mistake that affected his interpretation and later his application. It is a mistake that I too have made. Simply put, my friend took a descriptive passage and made it prescriptive. That is to say, my friend took what Jesus did (descriptive) and preached that we should go and do likewise (because Jesus did it, so must we – prescriptive). In taking this path, my friend made the verses more about us than about Jesus! Let me be clear: application is important, indeed necessary, for sound preaching. A good preacher must answer the “So what?” question if his hearers are to be challenged and changed. But in this passage, what is it that Matthew wants us to see and where is the application? Let me offer my observations:

  1. In verse 23, Matthew places teaching and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom ahead of healing in terms of Jesus’ ministry. It is not that the healing was unimportant, but that here Matthew gives priority Jesus’ teaching and preaching ministry, not to the healing ministry. 
  2. Verses 24-25 tell us that his fame spread dramatically, but notice why the people came. Was it to hear the gospel or wasit to be healed? The passage clearly says that they came for healing. Could it be that the people are concerned not with Jesus’ mission but with what he can give them? In short, are they are seeking the gifts, but not the Giver himself? 
  3. To be sure, Jesus healed them. He gave grace because he is good to us, even if our own motives may at times be impure. But the same crowds that come for blessings are the same crowds that later shout “Crucify him!” These people are not true followers, but fair-weather fans who quickly turn their back when Jesus does not give them what they want (we see the same phenomenon in John 6:1-69).

If we take this text then as being about doing as Jesus did in terms of his preaching, teaching and healing ministry, we milk the passage for good advice but in so doing lose the Good News. On the other hand if the text is about Jesus, it challenges our heart and makes us aware of our need for the Gospel: are we fans of Jesus who only want him for his blessings? Or are we true followers seeking to trust, listen, and obey him faithfully no matter the cost because he paid the ultimate price to save us?

Blogging in 2013

With a new year upon us, I am challenging myself to blog regularly in 2013. With that in mind, it seems appropriate to let my potential readers know what to expect when they come here.

  • You can expect reflections on the Bible and Christian living in general. I am a Christian, I love Jesus, and I expect that my time in the Bible will be brought to bear on what I write here.
  • I am a husband of one wife and father to two children. I hope to occasionally blog thoughts on family life, what it means to be a Christian husband/father in relation to all the joys and challenges that inevitably come up in those roles.
  • I will occasionally post musings on my PhD topic concerning Christian identity and its relationship to the mission of the church.

I will throw some other stuff out there as well, but I reckon this should be enough to get the blog going for the foreseeable future. Please feel free to leave comments and join the conversation. God bless.