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.
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.
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,
Jeremiah 7 (selected verses) and Galatians 5 (selected verses)
As was often the case in the life of Israel, God was not happy with them. They brought it upon themselves. Israel’s history went something like this: God would first save them and then establish or reestablish a covenant with them. In response, Israel would repent, and then, after the good times were rolling, Israel would commit spiritual adultery (i.e., run off after foreign lovers). Predictably, after her disobedience (and the subsequent punishment for said disobedience), Israel would routinely cry out to God, be mercifully heard by him, and the whole process would start all over again.
It is Israel’s response to idolatrous and adulterous false teaching that our texts deal with today. The Lord, through Jeremiah, tells his people that if they are going to be allowed to continue to live in peace, then they are going to have to reform their ways and their actions (v. 3).
Verses 5-7 serve as a warning against wrong behavior and an encouragement for right behavior.
If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly,  if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm,  then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever.
So why would God’s people act disobediently? Verse 8 gives us a clue: They were trusting in deceptive words that were worthless.
Again, God says to them in verse 23,
…Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in all the ways I command you, that it may go well with you.
God wanted so much to bless them, but he wasn’t kidding about what would happen if they didn’t obey him. However, they must have thought he was, for we read these sobering words in verse 24,
But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward.
God’s people were stubbornly committed to their sin… and for that sin we discover God’s indictment regarding them. Verse 28 tells us that truth had perished…that it had vanished from their lips.
Because they were no longer trusting in God’s Word, but trusting in the deceptive words of false teachers instead, they were soon to experience the wrath of God.
There’s a similar story in the New Testament. The Apostle Paul was bewildered with the Galatian Church. They had heard and responded to the pure Word of God as Paul had preached it. But, like God’s people in an earlier generation, many of the Galatians began trusting in deceptive words. They were being enticed to mix the finished work of Christ with their own works as a means of salvation. Paul was dumbfounded at such a move. We read in verses 7 and 8…
You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?  That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.
God, through Paul, was warning them (and us) that such deceptive words were (are) like a little yeast, which works through a whole batch of dough (v. 9). It infects it like a disease. In the Bible, yeast often symbolizes evil or a false teaching.
When people begin to listen to deceptive words rather than the Word of God, trouble is sure to follow. Satan, the father of deceptive words, is not stupid. He will show us the worm, but not the hook. He will never show us the consequences that must follow his deceptive words. Instead, his words will always appear quite enticing, beautiful, practical, and relevant.
That is why everything must be tested against God’s Word – the Word properly understood. Even the best of intentions can be marred by deception. The church must constantly be on her guard against such yeast that seeks to contaminate her whole body. Whether it is what is preached from the pulpit, what is taught in a Bible study, the administration of a committee, or what programs are being implemented for evangelism, service or mercy, the church must always make sure she is taking her cues from God’s Word.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but today’s texts reveal that the church has not always gotten this right. In fact, the history of the church shows us over and over again what a little yeast can do. Even a cursory glance at the contemporary church scene shows plenty of evidence of the very idolatry and adultery that Jeremiah and Paul warned against.
So stand firm against all deceptive words. Cling to God and his Word as the only sure light by which to deal with the world, the flesh and the devil. Only with and through God’s Word may we know the one true God and his Son, Jesus Christ, whom he sent. That alone is eternal life (John 17:3).
Grace and Truth,
Intensive Discipleship. That’s how I once heard counseling… at least “biblical or Christian counseling”… described. The idea is that every now and then folks in the church have particular struggles they wrestle with… or various temptations, sin, forms of brokenness, etc. These are pastoral care issues that require more focused attention than what can usually be received in a typical “group Bible study.” Sometimes the person may need to be referred to someone in the medical or mental health world. However, often these folks can receive much blessing and help from other Christians, including their pastors. That’s where the following websites and ministries come in.
Such counseling is for those times in which there's a need for one-on-one biblical guidance, or, intensive discipleship. The thinking behind this is that very often these issues are spiritual in nature. God’s Word is sufficient to diagnose what’s going on in that person’s life as well as to offer the solution to the problem at hand. Hey, it worked for 1,800 years or so before Freud came on the scene. Believe it or not, the Church actually cared for such needs. That’s why pastors were quite often referred to as physicians or shepherds of souls (and that title wasn’t reserved for only salvation issues). (I refer you to Richard Baxter’s Christian Directory.)
The list below is made up of ministries that are doing a great job, not only of actually “doing” such counseling ministry, but also equipping, encouraging, and educating folks in the Church to do the same.
My rule of thumb regarding why I choose the websites I do is this: “Online usefulness.” In other words, there are many ministries that are doing great things for Christ, but their websites may not be that helpful. With my Top Ten lists I’m trying to share the websites that will be the most useful to you – via articles, newsletters, blogs, video, audio and podcasting, training events, curricula, books, etc.
Here’s my list. As usual, these are in no particular order (except for the first two… which I visit all the time)
Grace and Truth,
1.) CCEF – Christian Counseling & Education Foundation – These guys have been around a long time and are getting better with age. They are keeping their website fresh and relevant and the content is second to none. Great stuff here.
2.) Rick Thomas.net – Rick Thomas is one of the most prolific guys I know. And, full disclosure, he got me up and running with my wordpress blogging a number of years ago. However, I sought him out only because of the great job he was doing with his counseling ministry online. More resources here than you’ll even know what to do with. Rick has also shifted to developing leaders so that they can better serve those under their care. Great site! Great ministry!
3.) American Association of Christian Counselors – Their strength is in their training programs, conferences, and their magazine, “Christian Counseling Today.” They are working on becoming more user-friendly, but for now, you may have to “work” a little to find what you’re looking for. But your effort will be well worth it.
4.) Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (formerly NANC) – They are primarily an equipping ministry, though their online usefulness is growing. I have been a part of their training programs and they are excellent.
5.) Faith Biblical Counseling – These folks have an incredible church counseling ministry. And their website is getting exponentially better and better. They have an awesome webstore where you can get great books and audio/video resources to help you learn more about how to counsel or particular issues Christians face. Great stuff.
6.) Association of Biblical Counselors – Great website with a growing list of resources – blogging, articles, audio, video, etc. You can also become a member and get access to some resources that are very helpful in counseling or teaching.
7.) Brad Hambrick is very helpful on subjects related to counseling. Brad does a great job of keeping it up to date.
8.) Institute for Biblical Counseling and Discipleship (IBCD) – This is another example of a ministry that has been around for years doing great things for the Kingdom. But now their website is improving quickly and become a great resource center. Love it.
9.) Peacemaker Ministries – Ken Sande and company are great on the topics of peacemaking, reconciliation, etc., for couples, families, churches, etc. They have a wide ranging ministry that you really ought to check out.
10.) Biblical Counseling Center – I already loved these folks. But even since I last stopped by their site they have “super-improved” their website. Fantastic! Lots of great resources. Easy to get around and find what you’re looking for. You need to check them out.
*** Since I first put together this list several years ago, I have grown in deep appreciation for the Biblical Counseling Coalition – Wonderful resource, great articles, well worth your time.
*** Another great ministry that has come into being since I first put this list together is Jay Adams’ new ministry – The Institute for Nouthetic Studies.
I’m certain there must be new such websites springing up all the time. If you know of any that ought to make it to this list, please don’t hesitate to let me know. I’m sure this list will grow from a Top Ten to a Top Twenty in no time at all.
I love Acts 20! As a shepherd entrusted with the care of a local assembly of God’s flock, I get a lot of mileage out of these farewell words of the Apostle Paul to the church leaders in Ephesus. Paul spent three years shepherding and building the church in Ephesus – longer than he spent with any other church. He poured out his life as he invested in theirs.
As he prepared to depart from them, Paul both reminded them of something important and warned them about something important.
First of all, he reminded them that he had never hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to them. I get the sense here that Paul did not preach to their felt needs, but instead, ministered to their actual needs before a holy God.
Furthermore, he didn’t just preach from the pulpit to the masses. Like the pastoral giant, Richard Baxter, who would use this text as one of the foundations of his ministry some 1,600 years later, Paul went house to house – teaching both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance as well as place their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ if they would be saved.
This effort, for Paul, was the cornerstone of his ministry there. He said in verse 24,
However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.
His faithfulness to this blessed task was what enabled him to say in verse 26 that he was “innocent of the blood of all men.” For he did not hesitate “to proclaim to [the church at Ephesus] the whole will of God.” In other words, there were no essential doctrines of the Christian faith omitted because of how uncomfortable they might make the intended audience. The whole counsel or will of God was preached. That meant that Paul preached on the character, attributes, and decrees of God, heaven, hell, salvation, sin, justification by faith alone in Christ alone, holiness, the cost of discipleship, etc., etc., etc.
If it was a.) helpful to the people (verse 20), and b.) part of the whole will of God (verse 27), then the Apostle preached it.
I’ve heard it put this way before: If you knew you only had five years to minister to someone, what would you want to make sure they heard, understood, and began to put into practice before they left your influence? Paul only had three years. And we don’t have to guess what he spent every minute preaching and teaching. We need only read the Book of Acts and his epistles to know the heart of Paul’s focus.
That leaves me with this question: What am I preaching and teaching the people entrusted to my care during the time that I’ve been given? That includes not only my church but also my family…and anyone else whom I may influence. In that sense, we are all shepherds who need to ask ourselves that penetrating question. We are all called to pass on the whole counsel of God to the next generation of followers and would-be followers of Christ. It’s what Christ meant when he said that included in making disciples is the order to teach them to obey everything that he commanded. He also said in John 8:32, that if we would hold to his teaching, then we are really his disciples.
For us, today, that “whole counsel” of God would include things such as repentance of sin, trust in the person and work of Christ alone for salvation, the great doctrines of the faith, holiness of life, etc.
Some of this will soothe the wearied soul. Some of it will be a balm to the hurting. Even for some of the rebellious it will be inexpressibly good news. For others it will prick the conscience and even stir up anger. It will be repellant for yet others. But we can be assured that it will all be for the good of those whom God has entrusted to our care…to our sphere of influence And that, along with the joy of obeying God in such things, should be all the affirmation we need.
Grace and Truth,