Listening Is the First Thing

Here is an encouragement to all who make it their regular rhythm to read and listen to the Scriptures. Not to mine it for religious information or obscure facts or historic controversies or proverbial nails in your friend’s doctrinal coffin. But for shaping. For transformationFor God.

This comes from Eugene Peterson’s introduction to The Message.

“Revelation” means that we are reading something we couldn’t have guessed or figured out on our own. Revelation is what makes the Bible unique.

And so just reading [the Bible] and listening to what we read, is the first thing. There will be time enough for study later on. But first, it is important simply to read, leisurely and thoughtfully. We need to get a feel for the way these stories and songs, these prayers and conversations, these sermons and visions, invite us into this large, large world in which the invisible God is behind and involved in everything visible and illuminates what it means to live here—really live, not just get across the street. As we read, and the longer we read, we being to “get it”—we are in conversation with God. We find ourselves listening and answering in matters that most concern us: who we are, where we came from, where we are going, what makes us tick, the texture of this world and the communities we live in, and—most of all—the incredible love of God among us, doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.


Celebrating Advent

Historically, the Christian church has devoted the month of December to celebrating Advent (from the Latin adventus, which means “coming, arrival”). The first Advent was Jesus’ birth: when God himself took on flesh as a humble baby, born in a dirty stable. For centuries upon centuries, the Old Testament saints had anticipated the Messiah’s arrival. We, too, are saints who anticipate the Messiah’s second arrival. Jesus’ next Advent will come when he returns at the end of the age, not as a poor, humble carpenter, but as a warrior King who rescues his friends and slaughters his foes.

As we celebrate Jesus’ first arrival, and anticipate his second, join me, and millions of other Christians around the globe, in purposeful and intentional daily reflection on the wonders and glories of the gospel. Below are a few options for daily Scripture/devotional readings.


How Not to Read the Bible

Part 4 in a 10 part series. View series intro and index.

We are taking a step backwards a bit in our Gospel-Centered Devotions series. Before I get to how to keep Christ at the center of the New Testament (part 8), I want to briefly walk through some unchristian ways to read the Bible.

We learn how to read the Bible from the spiritual “experts” in our lives (usually the three “P’s”: pastors, professors, parents). People especially read the Bible the same way it is preached to them. These unchristian ways to read the Bible run rampant in pulpits all across America and usually leak their ways into small group Bible studies and children’s ministries as well (see my other series going on right now). With God’s help, we can “undo” wrong ways of reading to transform our devotional times. Without further adieu, here are a handful of unchristian ways to read the Bible.

  • Moralism. You read the Bible to find morals and ethics to obey to get God in your debt. If you obey, God loves you. If you don’t obey, he doesn’t love you. When you fail, you need to try harder to ratchet up the obedience. You fail to see that your true problem is identity (sinner), not actions (sins).
  • Self-Helpism. You read the Bible to find examples of how you can help yourself be a better person. You fail to see your natural inclination to resist obeying God by thinking  with the right tips you can achieve the absolute holiness God requires.
  • Mysticism. You read the Bible expecting an emotional awakening from the Holy Spirit. You want goosebumps and chills and an “inner feeling” that God is with you. You fail to recognize that the objective aspect of Christianity (the gospel event of Jesus life, death, and resurrection) is your only foundation for the subjective aspect (what the Holy Spirit is doing/can do in your life now).
  • Activism. You read the Bible to find justifications for corporate “kingdom work” like recycling, planting trees, starting homeless shelters, and other “causes.” These are good things, but you fail to recognize the personal work of the King as the foundation for all societal action.
  • Road Map for Life. You read the Bible only when life gets tough and you need a pick-me-up. You want a fortune cookie saying, so you fail to read the Bible in context and often apply passages to your life that have nothing to do with 21st century Americans.

There are also unchristian motivations to read the Bible. These are straightforward enough, but at least deserve a mention:

  • Legalism: You read the Bible in order to get right with God.
  • Obligation: You read the Bible to appease your own guilt.
  • Self-competence: You read the Bible to gain theological knowledge.
  • Self-righteousness/Judgmentalism: You read the Bible to feel good about your self-worth. You read the Bible to have a hammer to swing at others.

We are guilty of all these on some level or another. We must repent and “unlearn” what others have taught us and, indeed, what our sinful nature wants. Jesus even died to bring us hermeneutical (interpretive) salvation! The Bible is God’s self-revelation to us so that we might taste and see he is good as we gaze upon his Son, who is God’s glory and the exact representation of God’s nature (Heb. 1:3). Let’s read it as such.

Life Theology

God Loves His Little Pharisees and Prodigals

Part 2 in a 4 part series. View series intro and index.

In my last post, I made the point that in raising children and teaching them the Bible, the goal is not to make them nice kids who obey the rules. All people, including our children, are sinners who need a Redeemer who will rescue and deliver them from God’s wrath. No amount of rule keeping will make us right with God. If we truly believe that, it should drastically alter the way we raise our kids and instruct them at home and in church.

At the risk of over-generalization, most kids probably fall into two categories. On one hand, we have law-keeping Lewis. He is a good boy who loves always doing what Mommy and Daddy tell him to do. He stands a little taller when he obeys, especially when his sister does not. Speaking of his sister, she’s rule-breaking Rachel. Rachel knows that she can’t stack up to Lewis, so she makes her own rules. She cheats during games, shirks her chores, and scowls at Lewis for always being Mom’s favorite.

Does this sound familiar? The parable of the two sons in Luke 15:11-32 might ring a bell. The point is not mainly that Rachel (the younger brother in the parable) is an awful, sinful child. Likewise, the point is not mainly that Lewis (the elder brother in the parable) is a proud, self-righteous child. The main point is that God offers grace and redemption to both of them because both need it. You might give Lewis five gold stars for minding manners and doing chores, but you and I both know his heart is just as crooked as Rachel’s. If we are content with Lewis’ “obedience,” calling him a “good boy” and Rachel a “bad girl,” we end up raising a legalistic person who thinks they are accepted by God because of their merit, and Rachel learns this false theology in the process.

Now we can see why turning a Bible story into a moral lesson is dangerous. The apostle Paul thought he was the most moral man in the world, yet it amounted to garbage (Phil. 3:1-11). God does not require morality. The law was given to show our sin (Rom. 3:20). And the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-8)—which includes the “golden rule”—was given by Jesus to pull the rug out from under the Pharisees who thought the law was only about the letter and not the heart. God demands perfect obedience, including motive and intention. Only Jesus provides that (see Phil. 2:8; Rom. 5:18; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9). Perfect obedience is something neither Lewis nor Rachel can accomplish on their own.

Jesus’ perfect righteousness establishes our goodness before God, and our motivation for holy living. As Elyse Fitzpatrick writes in Give Them Grace:

Raising good kids is utterly impossible unless they are drawn by the Holy Spirit to put their faith in the goodness of another. You cannot raise good kids, because you’re not a good parent. There is only one good Parent, and he had one good Son. Together, this Father and Son accomplished everything that needed to be done to rescue us and our children from certain destruction. When we put our faith in him, he bestows the benediction upon us: ‘These are my beloved children, with whom I am well pleased’ (see Matt. 3:17)” (p. 50).

What do we as parents put our hope in then? The grace of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ for us! You might say, “That’s hard! My kids will go haywire if they hear about grace!” Really? Have you gone haywire because of God’s grace? If so, you don’t understand grace. I have heard it said before and I agree: I have never met a person who has been so captivated by God’s grace that they feel they have license to do whatever they want.

How does this all play out in children’s Bible lessons? We’ll tackle that in the next post.


Dad, How Do You Prayer before Meals?

Dad, do you use meal times to simply repeat a rote prayer, offering up your “duty” for God? Are meal time prayers simply a time to say the refrain, “Thank you, God for this meal…bless us now”?

I want to challenge you, Dad, to rethink your meal time prayers. It is so easy for me to slip into the “Thank you, Lord. Amen” prayer, especially if I am really hungry. That is not, however, how I can best lead my wife and daughter. Most of the spiritual instruction and formation that takes place in the home is not programmed or planned. It happens on the fly and in the mundane moments. My daughter is too young to catch what I’m praying, but as she grows to understand speech, she will begin to see that her mommy and daddy takes prayer seriously–before a meal, or any other time.

Prayer times are integral for saturating your family with the gospel. If prayer is simply a time to the usual, your kids will severely misunderstand the point of prayer. Prayer is a time of talking to our heavenly Father, in the name of the Lord Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Meal time prayers designed by God to teach and lead your family how to feast on the goodness and beauty of the Triune God, not the food on the table.

Meal time prayers do not have to be long. In fact, your kids (and maybe your wife) will probably be angry if they are! Even a short prayer, however, can be gospel-drenched and instructive for everyone at the table. Let me suggest a few meal time prayers to say with your family.

Father in heaven, thank you for another day of your mercy. You did not have to sustain us until now, but you have and any more moments we have together will be because of your sovereign grace. We praise you for your providence in giving us food to eat. Help us glorify you in our eating and drinking by remembering this food comes from you. Remind us as good as this food is, your Son is our true soul food. Only he can satisfy us and make us whole. No amount of meat, bread, milk, or even ice cream can do that. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

Father, you are glorious and good. This food reminds us that we are dependent on you, but you are dependent on no one. We must eat and drink to have energy, but your energy is self-contained and you never get tired. May we never forget our need for your constant help, whether we feel tired or not. We are thankful you have helped us most through your Son, who died to forgive the times we broke your rules and the times we have tried to keep them to earn your love. In Jesus name, I pray. Amen.

Father, there is no one like you. Before we eat this great meal, we want to recognize that you have created every flavor, designed each smell, and assigned certain textures for this food and drink. Help us enjoy our meal and remember that you have kindly given it to us because you are good. Most importantly, would we remember that you have given us your perfect Son Jesus, who has done for us what we could not do for ourselves. He gave himself on the cross so that we might join him and become your sons and daughters. In His great name, I pray. Amen.

You don’t have to pray these exact words. But you need to find your way to exalt Jesus and his good news, and do it often…even before feasting on macaroni and cheese.