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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Summer Reading Ideas for Children

As summer starts, I'd like to put in a plug for reading. Your children are bound to be busy this summer with a multitude of activities, but don't forget the one activity that will stay with them for a lifetime ... reading. I think one of the most encouraging complements I ever received was when someone told me I had given my children a great gift - the love of learning. I can't say that I had that goal in mind at the time, but if I stop to evaluate how learning was encouraged in our home, reading good books certainly holds a place of honor. 

I know it's a huge debate, but as for me, I pointed my kids towards good books and away from trash books ... and I didn't blink an eye doing it! One of my kids was an avid reader from his early years and the other had difficulty, but plugged away at it until it became easier for her in her late teens/early 20's. Unfortunately, people get the idea that if they have difficulty reading, then they just shouldn't read. Do you know how you become a better reader? ... by reading. You may never achieve the heights of a speed reader, but few of us ever do! Pastor John Piper often laments his painfully slow reading ability, yet he continues reading a few good books year after year, then shares what he learns with other pastors. It's well worth the effort to get your children to read good books. Without realizing it, they are building a body of knowledge and developing a "feel" for good writing. Once I did a creative writing study with a few of my favorite little girls, using well written children's books as examples of how it is done. We all loved it!

British Education Secretary Michael Gove recently recommended that the average 11 year old should read at least 50 books per year. Yes...that surprised me, too! So, in an effort to encourage summer reading, here are some suggestions from the books available in our 5th/6th SS Library (open to all children at FBC, starting at Level 2 readers & going up to Jr/Sr High). If you prefer, you may purchase them by clicking on the link (a small percentage of the sale goes towards my "Book Fund"). So turn off that TV and set up a "family reading" time. Start with 15 minutes a day, then expand it to 1/2 hour. You will discover that after a while, your kids (and you!) will want to read even longer! It's a great investment in giving your kids a love of learning! And if you're a believer, the ability to read discerningly is vital for a lifetime of studying God's Word!

The Phantom Tollbooth
Eagle of the Ninth (Bookworms Library)
The Hobbit
Little House On The Prairie
The Secret Garden
Black Beauty (Puffin Classics)
The Lantern Bearers (Roman Britain Trilogy)
The Magician's Nephew
The Horse and His Boy (The Chronicles of Narnia, Full-Color Collector's Edition)
Charlotte's Web (Trophy Newbery)
Caddie Woodlawn
The Trumpeter of Krakow
Rifles for Watie
Ginger Pye (Young Classic)

There are also lots of Christian biographies available! I recently added an anthology series for girls and one for boys ("10 Girls Who ...." & "10 Boys Who ..."). If your child has difficulty reading, anthologies where each chapter is a single story might be helpful to get them started. And I have a series of Missionary books written in verse, for younger readers. Or you might choose to read them to your preschoolers. My 4 year old grandson was just telling me all about George Mueller and how God used him to care for orphaned children! For older children, the Janet & Geoff Benge books are terrific!

Ten Boys Who Changed The World (Lightkeepers)
Ten Girls Who Changed The World (Lightkeepers)
Ten Girls Who Made A Difference (Lightkeepers)
Gladys Aylward: The Adventure of a Lifetime (Christian Heroes: Then & Now)
Amy Carmichael: Rescuing the Children (Heroes for Young Readers)
George Mueller: Faith to Feed Ten Thousand (Heroes for Young Readers)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Which is More Demanding: Letter or Spirit?

If comments I overhear are any indication, many have a wrong understanding of the meaning of "the letter of the law" as opposed to "the spirit of the law." It is usually used in the sense that the "letter of the law" is more restrictive (and therefore "unloving"), while the "spirit of the law" is more relaxed, more lenient, less demanding on one's life (and therefore more "loving"). That's not what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. In fact, He taught the exact opposite! 

In Mt.5:20, Jesus prefaces everything He is about to say from here to the end of His discourse by stating, "For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven."  He then proceeds to give several examples, using the formula, "You have heard ... But I say to you ..." In each example He contrasts the false doctrine of the scribes & Pharisees with the correct interpretation of the law. His greater authority burns through His words.  A prophet always prefaced his words with phrases such as, "Thus says the LORD ..." or "The word of the LORD that came to (prophet's name) ..." The scribes and Pharisees quoted renowned rabbinical scholars when they taught, "According to Hillel ..." or "According to Shammai..." Yet Jesus boldly states, "But I say to you ..."  He speaks directly as God!  It is His law, and He knows its true meaning. It must have knocked their socks off!  No wonder the Jewish crowds hung on His every word and the religious leaders hated Him! At the end of this discourse, Matthew writes, "When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching;" (Mt.7:28) and then gives us the reason why they were so amazed, "for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes." (Mt.7:29)  [The Greek word translated "amazed" is a compound word (which intensifies meaning) defined as "to strike out, force out by a blow, in the sense of knocking one out of his senses or self-possession, to strike with astonishment, terror, admiration"]

In each example Jesus gives, He demonstrates how the scribes & Pharisees had reduced God's commandments to mere outward actions, the "letter of the law."  In contrast, He then teaches that the law goes much, much deeper ... all the way to the heart/mind attitude. The "spirit of the law" is not content with outer action alone, but reaches all the way to the root of one's thinking. The scribes and Pharisees believed themselves righteous because they had not committed an act of adultery, an act of murder. They believed that gave them righteous standing before God. You will remember how the Pharisee prayed in the Temple, "God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get." (Lk.18:9-14)

Jesus attacks their false doctrine and aims right at their unrighteous hearts. God requires a righteousness that goes that deep!  Coveting is as reprehensible under the law as doing of the deed itself.  Hatred is as unrighteous as murder. Lusting after a woman leaves one as culpable before God as physical adultery.  That is the "spirit of the law".  Its requirements are so much greater than the mere "letter of the law".  One might be able to keep the "letter of the law," but no man can keep the "spirit of the law" before a perfectly holy God. (Rom.3:10-12)  Only God the Son, who willingly left the glories of heaven to take the form of a bond-servant, and be made in the likeness of men could "fulfill" the law by living in perfect obedience to every "jot and tittle" of it. (Mt.5:17-19)  The second Adam succeeded where the first Adam could not.  And it's only through the imputation of Christ's righteousness that God the Father can be approached. (Jn.14:6)  Don't ever think that "the spirit of the law" requires less righteousness!  At the end of his examples, Jesus gives the resulting conclusion to everything He had just taught, "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Mt.5:48)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Pray Them In

Rico Tice, co-author of a 10-week outreach study called "Christianity Explored," was interviewed recently and had something important to say about the role of prayer in outreach. I know I often find people I have been witnessing to or encouraging come to my mind throughout the day, but usually at the time I'm least able to actually communicate with them. Before you know it, more time has passed than I had intended! Tice offers the following suggestion...

"Personally, the key for every Christian is the morning quiet time. Are you specifically praying for anyone? If you are not praying for them, you will not follow up with them. If you are praying for them in the morning, you will text or call them in the afternoon for the purpose of the gospel."

[Christianity Explored - Study Guide, based on the Gospel of Mark, is available at FBC for anyone wishing to do an outreach Bible study with someone. Just see me. Or you may purchase it for yourself via this link.]

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Reason for the Hope That Lies Within You

I had pretty much ignored Camping's claim to "secret knowledge" of the Bible, attributing it all to another form of Gnosticism mixed together with a little numerology. Then I became angry at the harm he had caused the name of Christ. I don't find it amusing. The name of Christ is too precious. In his blog, Eric Landry offers the following reminder...

"We must be very careful about how we respond....

History teaches us that previous generations caught up in eschatological fervor often fell away from Christ when their deeply held beliefs about the end of the world didn’t pan out.  While Camping must answer for his false teaching at the end of the age, Reformational Christians are facing a pastoral problem come Sunday morning: how can we apply the salve of the Gospel to the wounded sheep who will be wandering aimlessly, having discovered that what they thought was true (so true they were willing to upend their lives over it) was not?  If this isn’t true, they might reason, then what other deeply held beliefs and convictions and doctrines and hopes might not be true?

It’s at this point that we need to be ready to provide a reasonable defense of our reasonable faith. Christianity is not founded upon some complex Bible code that needs years of analysis to reveal its secret. Christianity is about a man who claimed to be God, who died in full public view as a criminal, and was inexplicably raised from the dead three days later appearing to a multitude of witnesses. When his followers, who witnessed his resurrection, began speaking of it publicly, they connected the prophecies of the Old Testament to the life and death and resurrection of this man who claimed the power to forgive sins. This is the heart of the Christian faith, the message that deserves to be featured on billboards, sides of buses, and pamphlets all over the world.  It is also the message that needs to be reinvested into the hearts and lives of those who found hope and meaning in Harold Camping’s latest bad idea."

Friday, May 20, 2011

Our Feeble Prayers in the Hands of a Mighty God

As a follow-up to the previous post about prayer, here is an encouraging story from the Sept./Oct. 2010 issue of "Israel My Glory", a free publication from The Friends of Israel. The article, written by Peter Colon, is entitled, "An Old Man Wept."

"Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (1Thess.5:16-18)

"Due to the prayers of an old German carpenter named Christian Wolfkes, Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand, founders of The Voice of the Martyrs, came to faith in 1938. Soon they led Jews and Gentiles to Christ. Then a church was launched, to the joy of the carpenter. Wolfkes died during World War II, and the Wurmbrands were imprisoned for their faith.

When Richard [Wurmbrand] finally was freed, he spoke to a large crowd of Christians, telling them how he came to know the Lord. As he spoke, he noticed an old man weeping.

When he had finished, Pastor Wurmbrand approached the man to find out what was wrong. The man said his name was Pitter and that he was a wheelwright and had led Christian Wolfkes to the Lord long ago. Since then, he thought all he had ever accomplished in life was to lead a plain carpenter to Christ. It moved him to tears to hear how God had multiplied his ministry a hundredfold to bless Israel and see so many come to faith in the Messiah.

Today The Voice of the Martyrs is one of the largest organizations in the world aiding the persecuted church - all because a wheelwright led a carpenter to the Lord who then led Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand to Jesus."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"Pray Without Ceasing"

A prayerless Christian should be an oxymoron. Yet, how often do you come across a sense of passion about prayer among the believers you know?  Periodically you might hear someone talk about prayer, yet they are noticeably absent whenever the church prays corporately, and you never hear mention of specific ways God has encouraged their heart or illumined their understanding of Scriptural truth or given them a deeper understanding of His character as a result of their prayer. The "talk" and the "walk" just don't match up.

When we do manage to pray, how often do our prayers sound more like the list of "wants" a child might pen to Santa Claus at Christmastime? Seldom do we pray from a biblical perspective. We expend more effort wanting God to remove adversity, make us healthy or protect our loved ones than we do beseeching Him to lead us into spiritual maturity or praying for the faithfulness of His saints. Worst of all, we fail to magnify God in our prayers or thank Him for His abundant love and mercies towards us or recognize our part in the advancement of His kingdom program. Sadly most of our prayers center around ourselves and those nearest us, as we focus on surface needs, not deep, spiritual, eternal needs.

Our prayerlessness demonstrates our lack of understanding of the providence of God, His sovereignty and the power of His mighty hand. We don't think "big enough". Our culture provides three huge stumbling blocks to rich, consistent prayer. Modern  life is overly busy and full of distracting, empty amusements demanding our time and attention. Too often we're not discerning enough to prioritize our time in a way that honors God and contributes to our own sanctification, thereby robbing ourselves of the very things we need to lead us into the victorious Christian life. Also, we tend to trust in ourselves more than we trust in God. When we're at the end of our own resources, THEN we'll call on God. Scripture commands us to humble ourselves before God BY MEANS OF casting all our cares on Him. (1Pet.5:6-7) When we're continually casting (Pres. Tense Greek verb) our cares onto God, we humble ourselves before Him. Finally, most of us have lost our facility with language. We don't know how to glorify God with our words. Even if we are aware of God's greatness, lovingkindness and providence in our lives, we don't know how to express it verbally during our prayers. We think vague thoughts, we feel vague emotions.

So what do we do? Here are two simple suggestions. First, become disciplined. Plan your time, rather than letting unimportant things crowd out vital things such as prayer. Second, use tools to direct your thoughts and expand your ability to express yourself ... go to the prayers of those who had great skill at doing so and use them as the "jumping off points" for your own prayers.

Personally, I love using Don Whitney's suggestion to pray through the Psalms. His book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, has a chapter explaining the method. Basically, start reading a Psalm. When the Psalm triggers your thoughts toward adoration, confession, thanksgiving & supplication (the ACTS of prayer), stop reading and pray until your mind starts to stray, at which point you return and read more of the Psalm until your thoughts are triggered once again, at which point you stop to pray again. If the Psalms are short, you might find yourself reading through more than one. If it's a long Psalm, you might take several days to work through it. You will be amazed at how long and rich your prayer time becomes after using this approach for a few weeks! It will change your prayer life ... and it will change you!

A second suggestion is a system based upon the Puritan prayers in The Valley of Vision, an anthology of Puritan prayers. Like the Psalmists, the Puritans had a God-centric view of life and an amazing ability to express themselves, far beyond modern man's skill to do so. While the advantage of using Psalms is that you are also learning Scripture itself as you read through them in your prayer time, the Puritan prayers lead you to become more God-focused in your worldview. That was their great strength. I can see the advantage of using both, and recommend alternating them throughout the year. Joe Thorn offers a free copy of his schedule using the Puritan prayers here.  He sets aside three times during the day to go to the Lord in concentrated prayer.

Become a person of prayer. It will affect your own Christian walk, the lives of those you pray for and the purity, effectiveness & strength of your local assembly. It will also help advance God's program in the world. Don't you think those things worthy of your time?

Monday, May 09, 2011

Book Preview: "Give Them Grace, Dazzling Your Kids With the Love of Jesus"

Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson have a new book coming out this month. Raising our children in a manner that glorifies God can be a challenge, yet it is also a privileged responsibility He has given us. You may know the general biblical concepts, but the actual day-to-day implementation can be difficult to figure out.  I remember thinking, "Yes, I want to bring my children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, but how exactly do I do that?" 

Fitzpatrick offers advice concerning different responses to various parenting situations.  Not every situation should be treated the same way.  She even offers an acronym to help us remember the various approaches: Moms Need To Constantly Pray, which of course, is a basic tenet of Christian child rearing!  The letters stand for the various biblical approaches she suggests, depending on the actual need of the situation - Manage, Nurture, Train, Correct and Promise.  I'm assuming she derived her categories from the different ways God deals with His children.  2 Timothy 3:16-17 comes to mind. It lists four different areas where Scripture is "profitable" - for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness.  God also makes promises to His people,  encouraging them to "set their minds" on these things, thereby enabling them to have an eternal focus and a longing for the day when His promises come to complete fruition.  Fitzpatrick & Thompson suggest asking yourself the following questions in order to determine which of God's methods may be best suited to a particular situation in child rearing.  I've added some of my own thoughts about  situations in which these approaches might be implemented.
  • Does this circumstance simply call for management?
    • Mom finds herself unnecessarily  repeating herself too many times to get her 4 year-old to do his daily chores (e.g. dress himself, brush his teeth, make his bed, put dirty pjs in laundry basket in the AM; set the table for supper, pick up toys at end of the day, put on pjs, put dirty clothes in laundry basket, brush teeth in PM)  She decides this is a "management" issue and prints up & laminates "chore cards" or a "chore chart" using pictures he can check off as he accomplishes each one.
  • Now that the situation has calmed down, do I have an opportunity to nurture his soul with the gospel?
    • e.g. A parent has a serious illness & the child is unsettled & frightened at the thought of losing them.  The daily family Bible time is a perfect opportunity for addressing these issues by teaching who God is, as He has revealed Himself in His Word.
  • Is this the time to train him in how to apply what Jesus has already done for him?.
  • Do I need to correct her/his attitudes or actions so that they are more in line with the good news?
    • e.g. A child is corrected when they speak unlovingly to a sibling, taught the language of repentance, seeks forgiveness & is taught to look for ways to show their love for their sibling.
  • Should I remind him of God’s promises, either of blessing for faith or of consequence for unbelief?
    • Personalizing God's promises to a level the child can understand; faithfully following through with consequences for their actions 
  • Finally, is this just a time for me to pray and ask the Lord to show me how the gospel applies to my own heart?  Do I need clarity to understand why my child is struggling or resisting right now?  Do I need clarity into my heart’s responses so that I am not sucked down into her unbelief, anger, and despair?  What is it that bothers me about his attitude?  Why?
I've pre-ordered a copy for the FBC library, so keep an eye out for it.  If you prefer, you may pre-order your own copy by clicking on the link below. [Thanks to Justin Taylor's blog for the heads-up!]
Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus

Friday, May 06, 2011

One Way

In our post-modern multicultural society, repeating Jesus' warning that there is only one way to the Father, a way provided by the Father Himself, often generates anger and charges of great hubris.  Our world increasingly views such an idea as intolerant, unloving and arrogant.  But consider the source.  If the Creator provides a way for the creature to reach Him, should we not listen?  Should we not consider?  Should we not respond in humility and thankfulness?  What if you were dying from cancer and a drug company offered you, as a free gift, the only drug that could preserve your life?  Would you say, "No thanks. I know a little bit about science, I'll figure out how to save myself." Or might you reply, "No way. My family uses only all-natural remedies. I won't consider anything else."  Or would you insist that you are the captain of your soul and deny your mortal illness?

Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me." Shouldn't you bow down in grateful reverence at the loving provision of a holy God and say, "Thank you?"  [John 14:5-11]  It's not "intolerant," it's truth ... and it's our only hope.

Monday, May 02, 2011

"for the sake of Christ"

What motivates the Christian life?  Some desire personal recognition, appreciation, perhaps even admiration from others.  Some approach the Christian life as "duty".  Others spend their lives compiling long lists of  "dos" and "don'ts", fostering a critical spirit towards those who don't live up to their man-made requirements.  Some pamper and pet their spiritual gift, becoming the divas of the Christian world ... disconnected loners who come to think of the church as their "stage".  And some just long for a place to belong, make friends, develop a social life and have all their personal needs met.  The best way to help all of these people grow spiritually is to encourage them to turn their eyes off of self and onto their Savior.

In his book Studies on the Sermon on the Mount, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes, "The Christian's life is controlled and dominated by Jesus Christ, by his loyalty to Christ, and by his concern to do everything for Christ's sake ... the whole object of the Christian should be to live for Christ's sake and no longer to live for his own. ... That is something which you find everywhere in the New Testament.  The Christian, being a new man, having received new life from Christ, realizing that he owes everything to Christ and His perfect work, and particularly to His death upon the cross, says to himself, "I am not my own; I have been bought with a price."  He therefore wants to live his whole life to the glory of Him who has thus died for him, and bought him, and risen again.  So he desires to present himself, 'body, soul and spirit', everything to Christ.  This, you will agree is something that was not only taught by our Lord; it is emphasized everywhere in all of the New Testament Epistles.  'For Christ's sake' is the motive, the great controlling motive in the life of the Christian.  Here is something that differentiates us from everybody else and provides a thorough test of our profession of the Christian faith.  If we are truly Christian, our desire must be, however much we may fail in practice, to live for Christ, to glory in His name and to live to glorify Him."