Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Psalm 127:4--Arrow Making

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one's youth. -Psalm 127:4

This verse calls for a few posts. :-)

At the beginning of the verse, Solomon simply says that children are "like arrows." Many have pointed out that arrows don't simply grow on trees. Warriors have to take twigs--or branches more likely--and diligently work to straighten, whittle, and sharpen pieces of wood they find. It's no accident that Solomon compares children to arrows.

When children arrive in our world, when they are graciously given to parents through birth or adoption, they are like raw gnarly pieces of wood. They have spiritual bends, weak spots, and knots. They are deeply flawed. And if left to themselves, they would be of little use to God's kingdom. They wouldn't even attach to a bow, let alone fly straight or far, or penetrate into any evil strongholds. They need to be worked on and undergo deep-seated change.

So as parents, we have a responsibility to do what we can to make our children useful for God's kingdom. (We must acknowledge of course that ultimately God is the one who will change our children and make them useful for His purposes.) We should whittle away sinful behavior through discipline and correction. We should sharpen them by equipping them with knowledge of God's Word. We should help make them strong internally in character and integrity by setting high expectations. We should make sure they "fly straight" by helping them develop a biblical worldview that helps them make godly decisions.

So let's take these crooked branches God gives us and do our part to turn them into straight and strong arrows that someday we can launch into the world on their own--to fly into the heart of our great enemy's kingdom.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Psalm 127:3--Who Do Your Children Belong To?

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward. -Psalm 127:3

Children are a heritage FROM THE LORD. How quickly as parents we are tempted to view children as ours rather than God's. When children are first born or adopted, we feel such a bond and connection with them; and we realize that we have been blessed by God--but this often does not last...When our son was born, I was in awe of how God had brought his life about. How he had transformed a single fertilized egg of one cell (having chosen long ago what DNA would come together in this incredible little person) into a baby who could scream, cry, breathe, eat, sleep, and grasp our fingers with his little hands. Life is a miracle; children are a gift. And that is without question even to the hardest of hearts. But do we really let this sink into our hearts as moms and dads?

Our son is still very young, and even still, I have felt my awe at God's power and presence in my son's life slowly grow cold. As we've gotten into the routine of diaper changing, bottle feeding, burping, playing, and nap-taking, it's easy to start to see him as ours--not God's. When he was in the womb, God was the sole party responsible for his development. But now it's Stephanie and I's responsibility--or so I'm tempted to think. I'm sure this gets harder as children get older. We think it is all up to us, that we are in charge, and we grow to be possessive of them.

But how would our parenting change if we were to remember constantly that our children are "a heritage FROM THE LORD"--that they are "a reward" from Him? What if we were just as aware of that with our teenagers as we were the day they were born? I think we would strive to have them honor God more than they honor us. His rules more than our rules. His desires more than our desires. We would take greater responsibility for their spiritual health and remember that our responsibility is to teach them to love their Creator more than it is to turn them into responsible American citizens. We would probably be less controlling and possessive of them.

The real test might come someday when our child decides to become a missionary and go to a far away land to share the gospel. Will we demand that as our child they stay close to home where they are "safe?" Or will we proudly support them as they honor their heavenly Father abroad?

What about when they get sick and suffer and possibly even die before we do? Will we shake our fist at God and demand that He answer us why He took our child? Or will we in time remember that our children are His first and foremost and that He loves them even more than we do, even when He lets them--and us--hurt?

Stephanie and I, each night before we tuck our son into bed, have developed a practice of saying, "Mommy and daddy love you very much, but we want you to know that Jesus loves you WAY more than we do." We want him from a very young age to know that ultimately he is God's more than he is ours.

So parents, today remember that your children are a gift "from the Lord." You have a responsibility to care for them and lead them, but they are God's more than they are yours.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Psalm 127:2--We Need Sleep!

"It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep." (ESV)

Let's keep trucking through this great psalm and see what this second verse can teach us about family life....

Life can get so overwhelming in our culture. As a young husband, father, and pastor, I have "risen early," gone "late to rest," and "ate the the bread of anxious toil." Why do I do those things? Why do we do those things?

It's not wrong in-and-of-itself to wake up super early or stay up super late or to work extra hard. It's the attitude of our hearts as we do those things that can become sinful. The word "anxious" sticks out to me in this verse. If our toil, extra efforts, and sleeplessness are driven by anxiety and by a desire to control outcomes or situations, then we have slipped into sinful and "vain" behaviors.

Our bodies need rest. But in our culture, we just ignore that need and pretend like we never tire. We convince ourselves that if we just woke up one hour earlier or stay up one hour later or put in a few more hours at work, we will finally get everything done that we should. We'll finally have made "enough" money. We'll finally have that to-do list completed. We'll be able to get that birthday present for our spouse or child. We'll be able to take that family vacation we've been dreaming of. We'll get that much-needed promotion. But what do we lose in the mean time?

We are distracted--or even absent--from our family.

We need to remind ourselves that sleep and rest are gifts from God. C.J. Mahaney recommends in his book Humility: "Before going to sleep (each night), receive this gift of sleep from God and acknowledge His purpose for sleep." You see, by making us as creatures who need sleep, God has given us a daily reminder that we are limited beings. Only He never sleeps and never tires. Only He is ultimately capable of providing for our families. When we work so hard and strain our bodies almost to exhaustion, we might think that we are honoring God by our efforts. But if we are doing it with an anxious heart that is convinced it is up to us (limited as we are), then we are actually doing the opposite. We are denying His provision and His oversight into our lives.

Anxiety can eat you alive. I speak from experience. When you are driven by a desire to control and fix situations and by the goal of crossing off an endless to-do list, you'll never be satisfied. You'll "eat the bread of anxious toil" indefinitely. So be reminded as a mother, father, husband, wife, and employee today that, as Mahaney has also said, "Only God gets His to-do list done each day." I'll leave you with a further thought of his...

"No matter how much planning, scheduling, and discipline is present in my life, I will never completely redeem the time. I am a finite creature, limited in what I can accomplish, and further limited by my sin. So it should surprise nobody that I leave to-dos undone each and every day. My joy is not derived from the flawless execution of my goals. My joy each day is derived from the person and work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Only God gets his to-do list done each day. I need the cross of Christ each day." -taken from his blog entry The To-Do Lists are Never Done

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Psalm 127:1b--Who's Protecting Your Family?

"Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain." -Psalm 127:1b

In my last post we started a series of thoughts/meditations on Psalm 127. So I wanted to continue in this process of thinking about what this psalm can teach us about our family life.

So what can we learn from this verse?

Solomon (who I'll assume is writing this) is restating the first two lines about the building but using a different metaphor--this time of an entire city and its defenses. Cities, throughout most of history, have been protected by walls. Enemies were real, and threats could come at any time. There were no intelligence operatives spying on the enemy. There were no telephones to warn of attacks. There were no planes to fly over enemy territory and spy on them. There were no Air Forces and no missiles to shoot long range at potential enemies. Neighboring nations and peoples could build up armies or smaller bands of fighters and come to attack at any time. And the people of the city would never know it--unless their watchmen spotted them on the horizon and warned the people, readying them as fast as possible to defend themselves.

So the watchman's role was absolutely vital. Since attacks could be more surprising and effective at night, it was particularly important for watchmen to be alert and stay awake throughout their night shift. As anybody knows, this can be hard work to get our bodies to turn against our internal clocks and fight off sleep.

Solomon is saying that even if a watchman stays awake and does his job perfectly, spotting the enemies and warning the city, this does not guarantee safety or victory. Cities were still destroyed even when watchmen served their purpose. Why? Because God is the one who ultimately determines victory and defeat, failure and success. Superpowers can fall. Supposedly weak nations and cities can be victorious--if God is on their side.

So parents, let us not fool ourselves into thinking that it is entirely up to us to protect our children. It is not as if we can be constantly scanning the horizon for enemies of our children, micromanaging their lives, protecting them from temptation--and guarantee their safety and their morality. We can do our jobs perfectly well and do our best to shield them and still have them fall victim to those very enemies. Just as cities with watchmen can be defeated, children with watchful parents can be "defeated." The spiritual health, success, and protection of your children is ultimately up to God--not you.

That being said, it is important to note that this does not mean we should just turn caution to the wind and let the guards down for our family. Hear what Charles Spurgeon says:

"Note that the Psalmist does not bid the builder cease from laboring, nor suggest that watchmen should neglect their duty, nor that men should show their trust in God by doing nothing: nay, he supposes that they will do all that they can do, and then he forbids their fixing their trust in what they have done, and assures them that all creature effort will be in vain unless the Creator puts forth his power, to render second causes effectual" (Treasury of David).

So, in your families, take responsibility for the protection of your children. Parents (and particularly fathers) have this God-given duty. There are endless enemies of our children to be mindful of and to shield them from (whether it be in certain forms of music or television, friends' choices, cultural assumptions they adopt, selfishness, anger, lust, you name it). Let's keep our eyes peeled and our voices ready to call out warning to them--just like good watchmen. Let's work hard at that task. But let us also be humble and remember that God must work in our children; He must take our warnings and our efforts and produce the fruit. Our work as parents is important and vital, but God's work is supreme.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Psalm 127:1a

Pastor John read part of Psalm 127 in the service Sunday as part of Phoebe Kettler's dedication. Afterward I spent some time reflecting on this psalm with Stephanie and found that it has much to teach us and can be easily applied to the leading of our families. So over the next several blog entries, I want to really dive into this psalm and see what we can learn together from it. Here's the text of Psalm 127 from the ESV:

A Song of Ascents. Of Solomon.
127:1 Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
2 It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.

3 Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one's youth.
5 Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

Today, we'll just start out by looking at the very beginning of the psalm.

"Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain."

This psalm was apparently written by Solomon or for Solomon possibly by his father David. Regardless, it is important to note that Solomon was the one in Israel's history who God instructed to build Him the temple. And a great and beautiful temple it was! It apparently was incomparable to any other later attempt at duplicating it. So Solomon knew a thing or two about building construction.

And with this knowledge in hand, the psalmist writes that building any sort of structure is totally vain unless God is behind one's work. Charles Spurgeon has commented on this passage saying, "Without God we are nothing. Great houses have been erected by ambitious men; but like the baseless fabric of a vision, they have passed away, and scarce a stone remains to tell where once they stood" (The Treasury of David). My mind, as someone living today, immediately goes to The Burj Dubai, a recently completed skyscraper that is the tallest building in the world--at 2625 feet and 160 stories! Work began on this tower in January of 2004, taking nearly six years to complete. Six years.

But the reality is that someday, if Jesus has not returned, this building will be surpassed in height by another, and it will come down. As beautiful and as eye popping as it might be, it really doesn't amount to much in the whole scheme of things. Buildings crumble and fall apart and deteriorate over time. They lose their luster. Tall buildings don't bring security or happiness or life or peace. God does--God alone.

How does this apply to our families? A few thoughts come to mind:

1. Don't spend your life laboring on things that God is not behind. The psalmist says that building a "house" is vain unless the Lord is behind it. The same is true for any work of ours that is without His approval. As a new father, I can already feel the temptation to have wrong priorities. I can work and work and work--and truly work hard and seek to honor God in my work--and still totally be off track. Sometimes we work so hard at building our "house"--whatever that might be (our savings account, our big project at work, our overall career track, our reputation, etc.). And sometimes those are good things in and of themselves. But if God is not behind us in our work, we are working in vain. We are building sand castles that are going to crumble and fall. Instead we should be aligning our work with the "Master Builder" as Spurgeon called Him. As mothers and fathers, this means that we should be pouring our lives out for our spouse and our children (if He has blessed us with them). And I'm not talking about giving them toys or money or college tuition or new shoes. I'm talking about giving them lessons in character, teaching them the gospel, reading with them, playing with them, sharing your love for Jesus with them, etc.

If you step back and evaluate your "work" or "labor," is it really the type of work that God is behind and part of?

2. Realize that in building up your children, you need to do it God's way. As parents, we can get this ideal in our mind of what our children need to be like. Well-rounded. Well-educated. Socially savvy. Physically fit. Responsible. Financially set. Popular. So we arrange our lives trying to meet those goals for them. We put them on all sorts of sports teams. We get them focusing on college choices as middle schoolers. We make sure they're part of clubs. We get them tutors. We make them go out and get a job when they turn 16. We push them to get a boyfriend or girlfriend as they get older instead of staying at home. We make all sorts of choices for them.

But do we stop to consider how God would build them up? Or do we just assume that our goals are the same as His? What about them having a love for their church family? What about them being knowledgeable of God's Word? What about them making family a priority and really treasuring their time with their parents and siblings? What about their skill set for being a good mother or father someday? There are a lot of things that seem to be priorities in God's eyes but that we sometimes ignore or overlook.

So as parents, let's make sure that when we are building up our families, we are building in a manner that is supported by God. Let's make sure that our family's goals and direction are His. Otherwise, we might end up building a family that is responsible, popular, funny, smart, and wealthy...but far from our Savior.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Home Front for January

You can look at our monthly parent newsletter by going here:

HomeFront January '10

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Britt Hume on Tiger Woods

Above is a YouTube video from the O'Reilly Factor where Britt Hume, a Fox News anchor, is defending comments he made about Tiger Woods and how he would benefit from converting to the Christian faith. He says that Tiger is in great need of "forgiveness" and "redemption." He is exactly right and is making the point that Tiger's professed religion, Buddhism, offers no such redemption or forgiveness of sin. Hume has received a lot of flack from people about his comments, but I for one am proud that he is standing up for his statements.

You might be able to use this as an opportunity to show your children that there are indeed public figures who are Christians and who love and serve Jesus and stand up for the gospel. Be careful, though, that you don't idolize these types of people in your children's minds. We have all seen how very-public figures, who claim to be Christians, can desert their faith or at least practice a lifestyle that is totally inconsistent with the faith that they profess. If our young people's faith is upheld because they find comfort in the fact that celebrities, athletes, or pop-stars share their faith, then when such failures happen, their "faith" can collapse. Our children should trust and follow Christ because of how great HE is--not because how cool or great certain public figures are who claim to know Him.

One other note: I wish that Britt Hume would be more forthright in saying that Tiger Woods needs Christ Himself--not just the Christian religion. And I wish that all of us would learn to love Christ simply because of who He is and what He has done--not primarily for what we can get out of Him ("forgiveness" or "redemption" or "eternal life" or fill-in-the-blank.)

That said, I am proud of Britt Hume. And I hope that Tiger Woods does indeed turn to our Savior in this dark time of his life.

Monday, January 4, 2010

What are We Teaching Our Daughters (and our sons)?

Homemaking Internship by Carolyn Mahaney

I sent this article out in an email to all parents of our church, but I thought I'd post it on here as well. This is a relatively short article about the importance of teaching our daughters the lost art of "homemaking." I predict that some of you reading this will cringe at that thought--saying that we've entered into a more modern era where gender roles aren't what they used to be. So it's too "old school" to teach our daughters to care for children, make meals, serve their husbands, etc. And I can understand a bit of where you are coming from. But Mahaney--and myself--are not saying that it is immoral for women to work outside of the home or for men to do the dishes. What she--and I--are suggesting though, is that God has given women (and men) a unique role in the family. And we do not pull that idea out of thin air.

This is just one example of a biblical passage on the issue, but read these words from Paul to Titus in Titus 2:3-5--

"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."

I won't launch into an extended explanation of the text, but a few notes...Older women are to "teach" younger women how to be good wives and mothers. This most naturally would take place in the home...They are to "train" them, which implies that their instruction is to be over the long-haul rather than just one-time lessons...And whether we like the concept or not, Paul does tell Titus that young ladies should be taught how to "work at home" and "submit to their husbands." These are not just roles that chauvinistic men have imposed on women, but are part of biblical femininity. They are beautiful in God's sight and should be taught to our daughters.

Disclaimer: Can a woman work outside the home and still be a "homemaker"? Yes. Although, honestly, I don't know that this is the ideal if it is possible to avoid it. And can a man help with dishes, laundry, or dinner and still be biblically "manly"? Of course! I do those things....But the Bible does depict our genders as having different roles within our families. And I think we need to let Scripture inform our views more than our culture.

So...if you have a daughter, moms make sure you are following Titus 2 and teaching your daughters the beautiful honor of homemaking. Don't let them enter adulthood without any training or knowledge about these things. Our culture might frown upon trying to teach her such things, but God does not.

And of course, fathers you need to teach your sons the honor and art of leading, providing, etc.

So read the article linked above and let me know what you think!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A New Years Resolution To Consider...

One of my hopes for each of the families in our church during 2010 is that you will make family worship/devotions a priority in your house. Whether you have no kids, lots of kids, or your kids have moved out, I hope that everyone in your household can get together on a regular basis for a short time of prayer and Bible reading.

This doesn't have to be profound or formal...I'm talking about just spending time together as a family to read a passage, discuss it briefly, and pray together. This simple step can reap great benefits for your family. If we are really supposed to teach and disciple our children (Deut. 6, Eph. 6), it's vital that we take time frequently during our weeks to stop and focus in on that task.

One of my friends recently posted this on Facebook:

Devotionals with your kids are awesome! If you haven't started yet, let me recommend it, lots of growing on both accounts. Been able to hit it solid for a week, and wouldn't trade a minute of it for anything. Sorry I didn't start sooner guys.

If you're wondering about how you might be able to actually go about doing this, listed below are some simple suggestions from Mark Driscoll:

Step 1. Eat dinner with your entire family regularly.
Step 2. Mom and Dad sit next to one another to lead the family discussion.
Step 3. Open the meal by asking if there is anyone or anything to pray for.
Step 4. Someone opens in prayer and covers any requests. This task should be rotated among family members so that different people take turns learning to pray aloud.
Step 5. Start eating and discuss how everyone’s day went.
Step 6. Have a Bible in front of the parents in a translation that is age-appropriate for the kids’ reading level. Have someone (parent or child) open the Bible, and assign a portion to read aloud while everyone is eating and listening.
Step 7. Parents should note key words and themes in the passage and explain them to the kids on an age-appropriate level.
Step 8.
Ask questions about the passage. You may want to begin with having your children summarize what was read—retelling the story or passage outline. Then, ask the following questions: What does this passage teach us about God? What does it say about us or about how God sees us? What does it teach us about our relationships with others?
Step 9. Let the conversation happen naturally, listen carefully to the kids, let them answer the questions, and fill in whatever they miss or lovingly and gently correct whatever they get wrong so as to help them.
Step 10. If the Scriptures convict you of sin, repent as you need to your family, and share appropriately honest parts of your life story so the kids can see Jesus’ work in your life and your need for him too. This demonstrates gospel humility to them.
Step 11. At the end of dinner, ask the kids if they have any questions for you.
Step 12. If you miss a night, or if conversation gets off track, or if your family occasionally just wants to talk about something else, don’t stress—it’s inevitable.