Far and away one of the best books I’ve ever read on child-rearing is Standing on the Promises, by Doug Wilson. If you were to ask to borrow my copy, I’m not sure it would do you any good because you probably wouldn’t be able to read the words from all my notes and markings.
However, if you are looking for a “how to” book to help you raise your children, this is not the book for you. While the book is not without practical application, Wilson is far less concerned with giving you twelve easy steps to parenting godly kids as he is with giving you a firm foundation upon which to do so. But, I hasten to add, the book is anything but abstract and impractical. It is encouraging, instructive, and even inspiring. I heartily recommend it to any and all parents who are seeking to raise godly children in this ungodly age.
Here are a few choice quotes from the first chapter that I think are worth passing on…
The Fountainhead of Culture
The biblical family is an instituted government, established by God at the very beginning of human history. The constitution for this government was written by him, and revealed to us in his Word.
Parents bring up their children to be colonists at the proper time, planting families of their own.
Consequently, each family is designed to be a culture – with a language, customs, traditions, and countless unspoken assumptions. God has made the world in such a way that children who grow up in the culture of the family are to be shaped and molded by it. The duty of the husband and father is to ensure that the shaping is done according tot he standards of the Word of God.
[A common problem among modern Christians] is that of forgetting the family is a culture at all, and allowing, by default, outside cultural influences to take primacy in how the children are shaped. When the biblical cultural mandate for the home is abandoned in the home, the vacuum will not be there for long.
By nature, children are malleable. They will either be shaped lawfully, by those commanded by God to perform the task, or they will be shaped unlawfully, by outsiders. But as children, they will be shaped.
He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap. (1 Timothy 3:7)
You have probably heard the definition of character as, “who you are when no one is looking.” You could also say that character is who you are when those who know you best are looking.
In the second chapter of The Measure of a Man, Gene Getz looks at what it takes to build a good reputation. This is rather a tricky area because some folks may enjoy a good reputation superficially because they’re able to reasonably fake it before people they don’t know well and with whom they associate only on an occasional basis. But living a life that builds a good reputation is hard to fake on a regular basis with those who know you best… such as the members of your family who know you most intimately.
Let me hasten to add that the expectation here is not that you’re expected to walk on water. As one person I recently read put it, the idea here is direction, not perfection. The question is: Are you moving in a godly, Christlike direction in your life?
In the Scripture at the top of this devotion, Paul tells Timothy the kind of person he should be looking for to exercise leadership in the church needs to have a good reputation. Christians are charged with hypocrisy enough as it is. And even if the charge isn’t always accurate, the mere perception can derail a life or a ministry. Worse still, we don’t want to misrepresent our Lord before a watching world.
Getz suggests that Timothy was such a person… a man with a good reputation. He highlights these three indicators…
1. People were saying positive things about Timothy.
2. More than one person was saying these positive things about Timothy.
3. People in more than one location were saying these positive things about Timothy.
It seems that wherever Timothy was and whomever he was with, he was a godly man living above reproach. Thus, he enjoyed a good reputation.
Getz recommends that if you want to really know your reputation (as it relates to your genuine character) ask someone who knows you best. This might sting a little, but it’s a good way to get to the truth of who you are… and to serve you in becoming the godly man you want to become.
Just as important, we occasionally need to conduct a personal assessment of who we are and what we’re about. Getz suggests asking yourself the following questions (these are great questions, by the way)
1. Do more and more people select me as a person to share their lives with?
2. Do people trust me with confidential information?
3. Do my relationships with people grow deeper and more significant the longer they know me and the closer they get to me? Or do my friendships grow strained and shallow as people learn to know what I am really like?
4. Does my circle of friends grow continually wider and larger? Do an increasing number of people trust me?
5. Do people recommend me for significant or difficult tasks without fear of my letting them down?
The point in all of this is not to build a reputation by duplicity and manipulation. To be sure, there are plenty of people doing that. Instead, our goal should be as we grow in godliness, the authenticity of our increasingly Christlike character will be made evident to all. And that’s how we can represent our Lord well in this world.
Have a great rest of the week.
Grace and Truth,
While I'm sharing excerpts from Packer, I thought I should also share this snippet from one of Packer's books that I have read a number of times, A Quest for Godliness. I've been listening to an audio course of Packer's lectures (from 1988) on the Puritans, and it inspired me to share this little list from Packer on why the church really does need to sit at the feet of the Puritans and learn from them. Here's a little from his list...
1.) There are lessons for us in the integration of their daily lives. As their Christianity was all-embracing, so their living was all of a piece. There was for them no disjunction between sacred and secular; all creation, so far as they were concerned, was sacred, and all activities, of whatever kind, must be sanctified, that is, done to the glory of God.
2.) There are lessons for us in the quality of their spiritual experience. In the Puritans’ communion with God, as Jesus Christ was central, so Holy Scripture was supreme.
3.) There are lessons for us in their passion for effective action. They had no time for idleness of the lazy or passive person who leaves it to others to change the world.
4.) There are lessons for us in their program for family stability. It is hardly too much to say that the Puritans created the Christian family in the English-speaking world.
5.) There are lessons to be learned from their sense of human worth. Through believing in a great God, they gained a vivid awareness of the greatness of moral issues, of eternity, and of the human soul.
6.) There are lessons to be learned from the Puritans’ ideal of church renewal. The essence of this kind of renewal (what they called “reformation”) was enrichment of understanding of God’s truth, arousal of affections Godward, increase of ardour in one’s devotions, and more love, joy, and firmness of Christian purpose in one’s calling and personal life.
A wonderful presentation on the life and ministry of J.I. Packer, in his words. I’m so grateful to God for both. Also, click here to visit the Crossway’s website on Packer.
A couple of years ago one of the men of our church shared with me a little about his Kairos Prison Ministry retreat that he had just been a part of. One of the things he told me was that since the prisoners don’t often get to eat any sweets in prison, many of them attend the Kairos weekend “for the cookies.” In other words, they want a less stressful weekend… some cookies and other good food… but not necessarily Jesus. Jesus just happens to be there with the cookies.
My friend then commented about how wonderful it is for the men who run the retreat to watch the transformation of these same prisoners over the course of the weekend. On the first day of the retreat the prisoners almost boastfully declare that they are there for the cookies. However, over the course of the weekend, as the Spirit moves in and through the men, the Word, prayer, fellowship, testimonies, etc., those same “cookie-seeking” men (at least many of them) really do encounter Christ and are truly changed by his Spirit.
For those who “come to Christ” and his church for dubious reasons, God often “stoops to conquer.” That is, God will often show up and lavish his grace upon a person, regardless of why that person “thinks” he or she is there. When a person, even unwittingly, puts himself or herself in the way of grace, Spirit-led change takes place.
Just think of these examples…
It’s easy to judge such people. We think we know what’s going on in their hearts. And it is true that some folks might do all of this and more, and then leave... only having eaten a few cookies. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, we are too easily pleased. A holiday at the shore is offered us, but we’re content making mud pies in a mud puddle. Yet, instead of judging such folks, let our hope be that they brush up against God’s grace and that God’s grace will be filed away in that person’s heart for God to use at a later time. That should be our prayer.
So let folks come for the cookies. And let us pray that they genuinely meet our Lord and come to know, love, and follow him… and stay for the feast.
Grace and Truth,
Mark 12:24 - Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.”
The Sadducees (the Jewish party that represented the rich and sophisticated folk – and who had much religious and political influence) came with a mind of tricking Jesus. They presented him with a conundrum. They wanted to know whom a woman, who had married seven times without ever having had any children, would be married to in heaven. Specifically, they asked:
“At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?” (Mark 12:23)
This was a strange question for them to ask because they did not believe in a resurrection in the first place. Well, as usual, Jesus didn’t take the bait. Instead, he chided them over something more fundamental. He responded:
“Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?” (Mark 12:24)
He then went on to remind them of what God’s Word said on the subject regarding their question and concluded with these harsh words, “You are badly mistaken!” (Mark 12:27).
What grabbed my attention in this text was what always grabs my attention when I read Mark 12. First, Jesus told the “religious experts” that they were in error because they did not know the Scriptures.
A New Testament professor of mine back in seminary once said that there would always be some in the church who would know Scripture better than their pastors. That has always been true in my experience. Degrees and full bookshelves do not necessarily make one an expert of God’s Word. Faithful, devoted, and regular attendance to Scripture is what molds and shapes us and helps us to think God’s thoughts after him.
The point here is that we are often “in error” (in our thinking, speaking, and doing), because we do not know the Scriptures. Of course, the opposite is also true. There are plenty of folks running around who know what Scripture says, but who do not obey it for a variety of reasons, but that's another devotion for another day.
To Jesus' point, we all too often, (and successfully), avoid studying God’s Word, and then wonder why…
If the Word were regularly renewing us, sanctifying us, transforming us, informing us, teaching us, correcting us, convicting us, training us, etc., we would find ourselves far closer to where we want and need to be.
The second point is that by not knowing the Scriptures, Jesus was also telling these "experts" that they didn’t know the power of God.
In the book of Acts, we often find the words “word,” “power,” and “Spirit” being interchanged as virtual synonyms. In one verse we may read about the Spirit of God. Then, in the next verse, we might find word or power of God. But in many cases the phrases are communicating the same idea. The Sadducees didn’t know the power of God in their lives because they didn’t know the Word of God.
God’s Spirit and power work in, with, and through God’s Word – not against it and not separate from it. I believe we do not experience as much of the power of God as we might because we do not know the Scriptures as well as we should. All too often we’re chasing after religious experiences, but missing out on the power of God that comes through his Word.
How encouraging it is to know that we have the resource of God’s power just waiting to be unleashed in our lives. As we begin to read and study God’s Word (regularly), we begin to tap into that power (not just learn a few facts about ancient Palestine). To be sure, God is not a cosmic genie who is required to respond when we rub the lamp, but he has revealed to us that he is pleased to change our lives through the power of his Spirit as we engage his Word. What a blessed promise to build our lives upon!
Grace and Truth,
There’s a strong connection in Scripture between picking up and carrying your cross and following Jesus. According to our Lord, there’s a direct link between that and being his disciple.
Luke 14:27 says, “And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me
cannot be my disciple.”
That’s a fairly absolute and unambiguous statement.
According to Luke 14:33, picking up your cross and following Jesus is the same as dying to self, dying to your own agenda, dying to your own lordship. Jesus says,
“In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”
In John 12:25-26, Jesus says something similar.
“The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal
life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant will also be.”
I could keep going because this is a very common theme in the teaching of Jesus. And yet, as clear as this
theme is in Scripture, it doesn’t seem to be one of our Lord’s most embraced or most beloved teachings. Instead, the Church today (and perhaps throughout all generations) appears to run after…
Not a whole lot of dying to self and picking up crosses. This is no doubt why Bonhoeffer wrote the following oft-quoted words…
“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ living and incarnate.”
Instead, both Jesus and Bonhoeffer call us to pursue “costly grace.”
“Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price, to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him. Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.”
Following Jesus in this way is a call to…
And yet this isn’t the call of a cruel and legalistic taskmaster. It’s the call of One who loves us dearly and who is full of grace and truth. It’s the call of One whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light. It’s the call of One who does not ask us to follow him in our own strength, but through his Spirit. In fact, he promises to live his life through us.
In our Scripture Jesus tells us that the wise person will count the cost before following him. Dallas Willard agrees that there is indeed a cost to discipleship. But he points out that there is also a cost to “non-discipleship.”
To be sure, it will cost us to follow Christ. But it will cost us infinitely more not to.
Grace and Truth,