Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Two - Let Us Be Transformed

Under the Old Covenant, God laid down very specific rules about how he was to be properly worshipped and the consequences of ignoring His commands were severe (Lev. 10:3; I Chronicles 13:10,11). This was true even when the surface motives were pure.

The first commandment directs us to worship only God, and no other, while the second commands that we should worship God rightly. Aspects of what it means to worship God rightly will naturally change depending on the place in redemptive history, but one thing that is constant is the notion of sacrifice. This is obvious in the Old Testament, but the New also makes the idea of sacrifice central to right worship (Heb 13:15).

We could spend pages speaking about the Mosaic sacrificial system and how it perfectly pointed towards what Christ has done, but I will restrict my comments to this:

A sacrifice, a true sacrifice, is just that, sacrificial. It is not something that cost nothing (I Chr. 21:24). Sadly however, because our hearts are deceitful (Jer 17:9), we frequently offer what we want to offer, rather than what God requires. We often worship God in a way that is “comfortable” for us, rather than thinking and praying about what God would consider a true “sacrifice of praise”.

One corrective to this problem, with our deceitful hearts, is God’s revelation of Himself through His Word. The Bible is a primary means that God uses to change our thinking and way of living, to bring it in to fuller conformity with His will. It is worth noting that in Romans 12:1,2; Paul establishes a direct connection between worship (understood in the broadest possible sense of that word) and the transforming or renewal of our minds.

It is for this reason, that when planning services at our church, I do so with a Bible in one hand, the songbook in the other, and a prayer that my preferences will be submerged and God’s desires will be apparent.

I’ll end with an example of how God has dealt with me and transformed my view of worship over the years. When I was a young man, and a new Christian, I did not like the Psalms at all. I heard others speak about their depth and beauty, but all I saw when I read most of them was David being a whiner. It was over time that I learned the Psalms were the inspired hymn book of David’s Israel, that they were meant for public singing in the context of worship and praise, and that they were part of the liturgical renewal that occurred in Israel under David. While it is dangerous to wholesale pull Old Testament examples in to the New Covenant, a better understanding of the Psalms never the less helped expand my understanding of what subject matter was appropriate for the public worship of God.

May God be pleased to bless our obedience and desire to worship Him truthfully and spiritually by continually drawing us to a right understanding of His will.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Six - Like Oil on the Head

Psalm 133

A Song of Ascents, of David.

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brothers to dwell together in unity!
It is like the precious oil upon the head,
Coming down upon the beard,
Even Aaron's beard,
Coming down upon the edge of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon
Coming down upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the LORD commanded the blessing--life forever.

There has been a lot of sickness at our house recently; at least one person in the family has been ill each day for the past two weeks. One of the practical results has been more impatience and frustration than is typical. As always, such is our sinfulness that inconveniences and mild discomfort makes us much more prone to sin than we normally are. So, our usually harmonious home has been scene to much disunity and even hostility.

The sixth commandment says, “You shall not kill” and while certainly things have not gotten that bad in our home, we understand that Jesus revealed the heart of this commandment to be much more than mere avoidance of physical murder. This is actually a call to reconciliation and harmonious relationships, a call away from anger and name-calling. Matthew 5:21-26 makes it very clear that we ought to strive to live peaceful lives, avoid unnecessary strife, and seek to be peacemakers.

We are concerned about the strife and argumentation and the damaged family cohesiveness that has resulted. We are therefore taking concrete, practical steps to address the problem.

We begin, as always, by understanding that underneath any sin (or lack of conformity to God’ will) is a spiritual issue that needs to be dealt with. In this case, we believe the lack of unity in our home is the result, not of a lack of focus on unity, but a lack of focus on the source of our unity. Emily and Timothy are both believers, so what unites the four of us is that we are joint-heirs of the Kingdom and have all been sealed by the Holy Spirit. So, if we want to live in harmony, we must focus on God our heavenly Father, and not on each other.

An analogy may be helpful here: if a large group of musicians wants to be in tune with each other, rather than tune to each other one by one, the quickest way is for all of them to tune to a common source, a reference note, like that produced by a tuning fork or the concert master. If they are each in tune with the reference note, they will necessarily be in tune with each other. So too, if we Christians want to be in harmony with each other (to mix the metaphor slightly), we must all be in tune with our reference note; our Father, God.

So then, we are taking the following three steps to help restore our family’s harmony, by God’s grace.

Because family unity begins with each heart being transformed, we have decided to recommit ourselves to individual prayer and growth. I confess my prayer times have been poor the past several weeks, and, where once we had quiet prayer times scheduled for our children, we have also let those slide because of the illness. We have made scheduled times of individual prayer a part of our day once again.

Because corporate worship is unifying for all true believers, we have recommitted ourselves to our regular family worship times, even in the throes of sickness. This has been ongoing and a struggle at times, but the systematic teaching of the Word and praying and singing together is central to our family life. We are always looking for ways to make this a meaningful time that benefits all of us and glorifies God, and illness just makes the logistics more challenging but not overwhelming.

Finally, because the Bible is God’s primary means of revealing himself to us, we have decided to remind ourselves of verses we have memorized (James 4:1,2 for example) and to add Psalm 133 and James 1:2-4 to the ones we have memorized.

We are praying that God will bless our family and allow this time of tribulation to help us grow in grace and patience.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Five Through Ten – Through Love, Serve One Another

Jesus taught that the final six commandments can be summarized by loving our neighbour (Matt. 22:37-39), so this entry covers commandments five through ten.

Chores (or diligence tasks) have been a part of family life for a few years now, and, just as the children continue to grow and change, so too have the chore assignments. At Emily’s suggestion, we recently changed the morning chores. Everyone in our family is encouraged to “do all things without grumbling or disputing”, so, when Emily expressed her dissatisfaction with the way some morning chores were being done, we were pleased that she mentioned it in a helpful and respectful manner.

The way things had been done, Timothy would make all the beds, while Emily and Benjamin tidied her room and the boy’s room. Unfortunately, Benjamin is still learning to tidy and often the boy’s room was quite messy, so Emily was finding she and Ben were still working long after Timothy was finished. She therefore suggested that each child should make their own bed and clean their own room.

After dinner, and as a lead-in to our worship time, we discussed the morning chores and evaluated alternatives (including Emily’s suggestion). I began by reminding everyone that one of the things we try to teach and demonstrate with our morning chores is an attitude of service to one another. Philippians 2:3, 4 reminds us we should “with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” Also, the theme verse for our chores is Galatians 5:13 “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”.

For this reason, none of us thought Emily’s suggestion of each child being exclusively responsible for their own bed and room was wise. Instead, after a very happy and excited conversation, we agreed that Timothy will continue to make all the beds, while Emily and Benjamin will tidy the rooms. Once Timothy is finished, he will tidy Philip’s nursery and teach Philip how to tidy up. Once a week, the jobs will rotate.

Anna and I were very pleased not only with the outcome, but with the attitude in which everyone participated in the discussion; they have a genuine desire to help and serve one another. We ended by praying, thanking God for wisdom and asking Him for humility to cheerfully serve. I also have been challenged to think more intensely about how I may serve my family and those around me.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Five – Parents Honouring Parents

As a father of four small children, I must say it’s tempting to choose as my favourite of the ten commandments the fifth:

“Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.” - Exodus 20:12

But, in our current culture where parents are often viewed as equal partners (with the child) in the raising of their children (I object to both the terms “partners” and “raising”), where teenage rebellion is a rite of passage and sin is considered a necessary part of coming of age, where a favourite pastime among adults is to compare stories of “foolish/irritating/sinful things my parents have done”, where parents are frequently portrayed in mass entertainment as well-meaning, but out of touch buffoons, what is a Christian parent to do?

As a father, God has placed upon me the responsibility of teaching my family the things of the Lord, of discipling my children and wife and providing a place where Christ is reflected to all those around us and God is glorified. I have been praying for God’s grace to help me fulfill these tasks, and here’s how that relates to the fifth commandment:

1. Teach them.

It’s hard for them to obey the commands of God is they have never been taught them. So, part of our pre-meal ritual is to systematically review the truths of God and the basics of living christianly: sin, redemption, the Lord’s Prayer, the 10 commandments, and worship (including prayer, discipling and the ordinances). So, when the children are disrespectful to my wife or me, it is easier to explain to them that they are not just violating a house rule; they are violating one of God’s rules.

2. Be honourable

While each one is responsible for their own sin before God, there are things we can do to help each other in obedience (Heb 10:24). In this context, it will be far easier for our children to honour us, if we are honourable people. If we live humble lives, love mercy, act justly, show the fruits of the Spirit and hold courageously to the faith once delivered, obedience to this commandment will come much more naturally to our children.

3. Model it

How often do I mock my own parents, speak ill of their choices, or make jokes at their expense? Do I spend time laughing at things they have done or do? Have I complained about their parenting in front of my own children? Conversely, how often do I exalt my parents in front of my children? Do I frequently speak of the sacrifices my parents made for me? Of the inspiring things my parents have done? Do I extol the examples of character or godliness in our family tree? If I do not consistently honour and accentuate the admirable qualities of my parents and grandparents, ought I to be surprised if my own children do not obey the fifth commandment?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Eight - It's Mine, Mine, MINE!!

I heard this on the CBC today: “Children do not steal with bad intentions. They have no concept of ownership.” She then went on to remark how we therefore ought not to discipline children for taking things that belong to others. I alas did not catch the name of the speaker. However, a quick google search will turn up hundreds of such statements. So common is this idea in certain circles that it has the ring of accepted truth. As Christians, living in a increasingly unGod-honouring culture, it is important to be vigilant about examining the "truths" of our day.

So, is it true that “Children do not steal with bad intentions? They have no concept of ownership.”? I think not. It strikes me as absurd both observationally and Biblically.

Observationally, as soon as I heard the statement on the radio, I immediately thought “They don’t have a concept of ownership? Oh yeah? Tell that to my toddler. Try taking his sippy cup full of milk, or boost his cookie and then tell me he has no concept of what is his, His, HIS!!!” Perhaps they have no concept of other people’s ownership, but that seems to me a matter of selfishness, not a lack of conceptual awareness.

Outbursts from the younger Marshlings happen pretty regularly around here, and usually they stem from possessiveness (sometimes baseless, sometimes not). A typical scenario involves disputes over favoured toys and who had what first. Often shrieks are part of the discussion, but sometimes they are just tense negotiations.

The implication of an amoral view of children, and much that I’ve read on child development, is that children are innocents who are corrupted by their surroundings or, at best, a blank slate upon which we write the mores of our culture. This does not square with what the Bible teaches. There are no age restrictions put upon the commandments of God (that is, obedience is required by all) and children were often specifically required to be present for the reading of the Law (Neh. 8:2,3; 2 Kings 23:2).

Further, we who believe in original sin understand that children are vile sinners, just like me, who stand condemned before a righteous God, who need to be taught by word, example, and enforcement what is good and what the Lord requires of them, including not taking things which are not theirs.

Having said that, may I never forget that disciplining my children is no substitute for redemption. I may be able to coerce compliance and socially acceptable behaviour, but only the Holy Spirit will address the root of the problem.

In a future post, I’ll write about how we deal specifically and practically with stealing in the Marsh home.