Thursday, November 20, 2014

Biblical Principles for Parenting: Part Two

Note: Since this series was originally my teaching notes, they contain Hebrew and Greek words in many of the texts cited. I do this for my own benefit, so that I can see linguistic connections in the text, and Jeff liked it, so I decided to keep the words with transliterations following each one. I hope this will not be too distracting, especially for those who have no familiarity with the languages.

In the introduction to this series, I indicated that our focus would be upon four principles which relate in one way or another back to God as our heavenly Father and our supreme example for parenting. In the last post, I discussed the first principle, and in this post I want to consider the second principle.

Principle #2: Our heavenly Father teaches us the importance of the loving discipline of our children.

This is a principle that the author of Hebrews stresses emphatically in his instruction of believers who are enduring trials and sufferings:
NKJ  Hebrews 12:1-11 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. 4 You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. 5 And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening [παιδεία, paideía] of the LORD, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked [ἐλέγχω, elégchō] by Him; 6 for whom the LORD loves He chastens [παιδεύω, paideúō] and scourges [μαστιγόω, mastigóō] every son whom He receives.” [LXX text of Prov. 3:11-12] 7 If you endure chastening [παιδεία, paideía] God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? 8 But if you are without chastening [παιδεία, paideía] of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected [Masc. Acc. Pl. > παιδευτής, paideutḗs] us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. 11 Now no chastening [παιδεία, paideía] seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
This passage should drive out of our minds the silly notion current today that discipline is necessarily unloving or cruel. The exact opposite is true. Only a father who truly loves his children will discipline them for their good, just as the Lord lovingly disciplines us for our own good.

This is why Solomon, who is quoted by the author of Hebrews in the above cited passage, taught his own son not to despise the discipline of the LORD because such discipline is actually a sign that we are truly His children and that He truly does love us (see Prov. 3:11-12). This same principle is then applied to earthly parents a number of times in the Book of Proverbs. For example:
NKJ  Proverbs 13:24 He who spares his rod [שֵׁ֫בֶט, shēḇeṭ, or staff] hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines [noun מוּסָר, mûsār; the LXX has Greek verb παιδεύω, paideúō] him promptly [שָׁחַר, shāḥar, literally to seek early].
Here the author uses a Hebrew construction that may literally be rendered “seek him early for discipline.” So we can see why there are a couple of different approaches to translating it. For example, the NKJV has “he who loves him disciplines him promptly,” but the NASB has “he who loves him disciplines him diligently” (italics mine). The NET Bible notes offer this brief discussion of the Hebrew word:
tn Heb “seeks him.” The verb ‌שָׁחַר‎‏‎ (shahar, “to be diligent; to do something early”; BDB 1007 s.v.) could mean “to be diligent to discipline,” or “to be early or prompt in disciplining.” See G. R. Driver, “Hebrew Notes on Prophets and Proverbs,” JTS 41 (1940): 170. (BibleWorks)
However we understand the Hebrew text here, one thing is certain: We do not really show love to our children if we either refuse or consistently fail to discipline them promptly and diligently. If we love our children, we will want to discipline them in order to deliver them from their foolishness, to teach them wisdom, and to lead them to trust in the LORD. Consider in this regard the following proverbs:
NKJ  Proverbs 22:15 Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child [נַ֫עַר, na‛ar]; the rod [שֵׁ֫בֶט, shēḇeṭ] of correction [מוּסָר, mûsār; LXX has the Greek noun παιδεία, paideía] will drive it far from him.
The Hebrew word translated child here has a wide range of meanings and can refer to a child as young as an infant (e.g. Exod. 2:6), or to a small child (e.g. Judges 13:24; Hos. 11:1[-3]), on up to a young man or woman, such as a teenager (e.g. Gen. 14:24; Eccl. 10:16). Here Solomon probably has younger children in mind, who are old enough to understand and thus benefit from such correction, but who are not so old that it would prove either impossible or impractical. The fact that Solomon speaks of the way in which “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child” also indicates that younger children are in view, in whom such foolishness might most typically be expected. The NET Bible notes are again helpful in assessing the meaning here:
tn The “heart of a child” (‌לֶב־נָעַר‎‏‎, lev-na'ar) refers here to the natural inclination of a child to foolishness. The younger child is meant in this context, but the word can include youth. R. N. Whybray suggests that this idea might be described as a doctrine of “original folly” (Proverbs [CBC], 125). Cf. TEV “Children just naturally do silly, careless things.” (BibleWorks)
Before we move on, however, we must address a problem that many people today have with this proverb and others like it. For there are many who would argue that the Hebrew term for rod in this verse is only intended to be taken metaphorically and not as a literal reference to the infliction of physical pain. The problem with this view is that it doesn't fit the way the word is used elsewhere in the Book of Proverbs. Consider, for example, the way the rod is employed with regard to the foolish in the following proverbs:
NKJ  Proverbs 10:13 Wisdom is found on the lips of him who has understanding, but a rod [שֵׁ֫בֶט, shēḇeṭ] is for the back of him who is devoid of understanding.
NKJ  Proverbs 26:3 A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod [שֵׁ֫בֶט, shēḇeṭ] for the fool's back.
There is also the way Solomon speaks again of the application of the rod in the discipline of children:
NKJ  Proverbs 23:13-14 Do not withhold correction [מוּסָר, mûsār] from a child [נַ֫עַר, na‛ar] for if you beat [נָכָה, nāḵāh, strike] him with a rod [שֵׁ֫בֶט, shēḇeṭ], he will not die. 14 You shall beat [נָכָה, nāḵāh] him with a rod [שֵׁ֫בֶט, shēḇeṭ], and deliver his soul from hell.
Here we might want to pause to consider whether we actually have a Biblical command to spank our children. For it must be remembered that the majority of the proverbs are brief sayings which are intended to be memorable and which summarize what has been gained through empirical observation of the general consequences of particular actions. In this regard many of the Biblical proverbs are no different than modern ones, such as “A fool and his money are soon parted” or “Many hands make light work.” Many of the proverbs are thus “generalizations, not iron-clad promises” (Jack Collins, Covenant Theological Seminary class notes on Psalms & Wisdom Literature). As Derek Kidner aptly points out:
Proverbs gets us to compare the 'now' of an act with its 'afterwards.' We watch the wine sparkling in the cup, but face what follows when it is loved too much (23:29-35). We look easily at money, but notice that what lightly comes, lightly goes (13:11). Or at illicit sex in the light of what awaits it 'in the end' (5:4). More cheerfully, we compare the irksomeness of accepting good advice with the blessings it will bring one day (19:20). And when it seems too costly to be godly, we are helped to see the picture as a whole:
Surely there is a future, And your hope will not be cut off. (23:18)
(The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes, p. 29)
Walter Kaiser concurs when he writes:
By their nature and form, proverbs are generalized statements that cover the widest number of instances, but in no case are they to be taken as a set of unbending rules that must be applied in every case without exception (An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics, pp. 99-100).
A good example of such a proverb would be one of the most frequently quoted proverbs with regard to parenting:
NKJ  Proverbs 22:6 Train up [חֲנֹךְ, ḥānaḵ] a child [נַ֫עַר, na‛ar] in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.
Although many believing parents are tempted to see this as an iron-clad promise, they really should be cautioned not to do so, given the nature of most proverbs. Thus we have stated here what parents may commonly expect to happen given a faithful application of the principle enjoined, but we are not given a guarantee that this will always be the outcome.

So what about the proverbs that speak of discipline with the rod of correction – or what we would call spanking? Do these proverbs demand that parents always spank their children? Are there no exceptions? Well, we certainly have no clear command to use the rod in any of these passages. Even Proverbs 23:14, which the NKJV translates as a command – “You shall beat him with a rod” – is capable of an alternate translation. For example:
ESV  Proverbs 23:14 If you strike him with the rod [שֵׁ֫בֶט, shēḇeṭ], you will save his soul from Sheol.
However, we must also consider the way that each of these proverbs is presented to us. So, for example, as we have seen in our study thus far, when the author of Hebrews cited the LXX translation of Proverbs 3:11-12, he assumed that the Lord Himself is an example of a Father who spanks every child whom He receives and that He does so because He loves His children. We have also found Solomon asserting that we will discipline our children if we love them, that such discipline includes the use of the rod of correction, and that withholding the rod means we don't really love them (Prov. 13:24). He certainly doesn't appear to consider the possibility that there will be any children who will not need such discipline at some point in their lives, although he does consider the possibility that there will be parents who will want to deny or avoid such discipline even when it is necessary. In this regard he anticipates the objections of many modern parents who try to explain away the Biblical teaching on this subject.

Christopher Cone, president of Tyndale Theological Seminary & Biblical Institute, offers the following response to those who would argue that “the rod” is to be understood strictly as a metaphor in such passages:
Here is the question: What specifically in the contexts of these passages gives indication that the language is intended as non-literal?
How does one “strike” a person with a metaphorical rod? Why would a person be afraid of “striking” a person with a metaphorical rod for fear of killing him? (“Oh my goodness! I am afraid that if I give general parental structure and guidance—nonphysical, of course—that my child might just fall down dead. Oh My! I am not so sure I want to parent with a metaphorical rod…”) I don’t mean to be glib—of course this is a serious topic, and certainly no laughing matter. Especially in recent months attention has been drawn to child abuse cases in which parents who were claiming to discipline their children actually harmed them to the point of death. That is despicable child abuse. This is something that does not result in death. This is something that never harms a child. This is something that offers the child freedom from foolishness.
Especially in light of [Proverbs] 23:13-14 … there is no textual basis to understand the meaning as non-literal. And if there is nothing in the text itself to suggest a non-literal meaning, then how would we justify a figurative interpretation? (A Biblical Perspective on Spanking, Part 2)
I agree with this assessment concerning the rod as an implement of physical discipline. I also agree that such discipline should never be done in such a way as to harm the child but rather to help free the child from foolishness through correcting foolish behavior. But foolish behavior must not be understood here simply as immature or childish behavior. We must understand that terms like “wise” and “foolish” are primarily moral rather than intellectual terms and that the fool is not necessarily intellectually challenged, but rather is spiritually stupid. In this context, we are dealing with the foolishness of disobedience and hence the need for corrective discipline. However, we must not see our role as simply correcting foolish and sinful behavior, but rather as teaching wisdom, and this is made clear in yet another proverb:
NKJ  Proverbs 29:15 The rod [שֵׁ֫בֶט, shēḇeṭ] and rebuke give wisdom, but a child [נַ֫עַר, na‛ar] left [Pual > שָׁלַח, shālaḥ, sent off or set loose, here meaning unrestrained] to himself brings shame to his mother.
Thus the rod of discipline, combined with rebuke for wrong behavior, is employed with the goal of teaching the child wisdom. This means that we must look to the Scriptures as our guide in correcting our children so that we will know what wisdom is and learn how our children may come to know it. For example, we will take these other proverbs to heart:
NKJ  Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
NKJ  Proverbs 9:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
So we are always focused on leading our children to know the Lord, and, in training our children to obey us, we are ultimately training them to obey the Lord as well. J.C. Ryle drives home this same point very well when he writes:
Parents, do you wish to see your children happy? Take care, then, that you train them to obey when they are spoken to – to do as they are bid. Believe me, we are not made for entire independence – we are not fit for it. Even Christ's freemen have a yoke to wear, they “serve the Lord Christ” (Col. iii. 24). Children cannot learn too soon that this is a world in which we are not all intended to rule, and that we are never in our right place until we know how to obey our betters. Teach them to obey while young, or else they will be fretting against God all their lives long, and wear themselves out with the vain idea of being independent of His control. 
Reader, this hint is only too much needed. You will see many in this day who allow their children to choose and think for themselves long before they are able, and even make excuses for their disobedience, as if it were a thing not to be blamed. To my eyes, a parent always yielding, and a child always having its own way, are a most painful sight; painful, because I see God's appointed order of things inverted and turned upside down; painful, because I feel sure the consequence to that child's character in the end will be self-will, pride, and self-conceit. You must not wonder that men refuse to obey their Father which is in heaven, if you allow them, when children, to disobey their father who is upon earth.
Parents, if you love your children, let obedience be a motto and a watchword continually before their eyes. (The Duties of Parents)
This assessment is correct. When we train our children to obey us, we are training them to obey the Lord. But this is why it is all the more important to bring them up in the training of the Lord. That is, we must train them in accordance with the principles of the Lord and in a way that follows the example of our heavenly Father. This is what the Apostle Paul was getting at when he wrote to the Ephesians:
NKJ  Ephesians 6:4 “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath [παροργίζω, parorgízō] but bring them up in the training [παιδεία, paideía] and admonition [νουθεσία, nouthesía] of the Lord.”
Notice what Paul tells fathers not to do. He tells us not to provoke our children to wrath (or anger). And by this he refers to ways in which parents can sinfully provoke their children to anger. He does not mean that, whenever our child demonstrates anger, we must have sinned as parents. Children can become sinfully angry with no help from us. So, if one of your children throws a fit just because he didn't get what he wanted, you certainly aren't guilty of having exasperated him. In that case, he was self-exasperated, you might say. However, if your child seems to be angry often, it behooves you to at least consider the possibility that you may be sinfully provoking this anger in some way. And, if you are, then after confessing it to God, you need to confess it to your child as sin and seek his forgiveness.

Before I offer some examples as to how we might exasperate our children, it would be helpful to examine the parallel passage to get a fuller understanding of what is in Paul's mind here. Paul gave a similar instruction to the Colossians:
NKJ  Colossians 3:21 “Fathers, do not provoke [ἐρεθίζω, erethízō, cause to become resentful or bitter] your children, lest they become discouraged [ἀθυμέω, athumeō].”
Or, as the NASB translates it:
NAU  Colossians 3:21 Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.
Paul has in mind the ways in which parents can anger or exasperate their children to the point that they become discouraged. This describes a situation in which children feel that, no matter what they do, they will never be able to please their parents, so they just give up trying. So, a tell-tale sign that a parent has sinfully provoked his or her child to anger is that the child is also very discouraged in this way.

Art Alexakis of the band Everclear wrote a song called “Wonderful,” in which he described the exasperation and discouragement of his own childhood after experiencing the trauma of divorce and a broken home, and I think he did a good job of describing the exasperation of far too many children today. Since it provides a window into the experience of so many exasperated children today, I think the song is worth citing in full:
I close my eyes when I get too sad
I think thoughts that I know are bad
Close my eyes and I count to ten
Hope it's over when I open them
I want the things that I had before
Like a Star Wars poster on my bedroom door
I wish I could count to ten
Make everything be wonderful again
Hope my mom and I hope my dad
Will figure out why they get so mad
Hear them scream, I hear them fight
Say bad words that make me wanna cry
Close my eyes when I go to bed
And I dream of angels that make me smile
I feel better when I hear them say
Everything will be wonderful someday
Promises mean everything when you're little
And the world's so big
I just don't understand how
You can smile with all those tears in your eyes
And tell me everything is wonderful now
Please don't tell me everything is wonderful now
I go to school and I run and play
I tell the kids that it's all okay
I like to laugh so my friends won't know
When the bell rings I just don't wanna go home
Go to my room and I close my eyes
I make believe that I have a new life
I don't believe you when you say
Everything will be wonderful someday
Promises mean everything when you're little
And the world is so big
I just don't understand how
You can smile with all those tears in your eyes
When you tell me everything is wonderful now
I don't wanna hear you tell me everything is wonderful now
I don't wanna hear you say
That I will understand someday …
I don't wanna hear you say
We both have grown in a different way …
I don't wanna meet your friends
And I don't wanna start over again
I just want my life to be the same
Just like it used to be
Some days I hate everything
I hate everything
Everyone and everything
Please don't tell me everything is wonderful now
I don't wanna hear you tell me everything is wonderful now (From An American Movie Vol. 1)
This song – written from the standpoint of an exasperated child – demonstrates quite pointedly some of the things parents can do to provoke their children to anger and to the point of complete discouragement. In particular, it describes the exasperation of a child whose parents have fought and then divorced. We all know that there is a multitude of such children in our country today. But there are many ways in which we can exasperate and discourage our children short of ripping the family apart through divorce. Here I will just suggest some possible ways in which we could sinfully provoke our children:
1) Making promises to them that we don't keep.
2) Lying to them, trying to make them think things are other or better than they really are (as in the aforementioned song).
3) Being hyper-critical and giving them the impression that no matter what they do, it will never be good enough.
4) Being hypocritical and expecting one standard in public (or at church) and another at home.
5) Expecting things of them that they cannot possibly achieve.
 e.g. We must not expect little children to show maturity beyond their years.
6) Refusing to let our children grow up and take on more responsibility.
7) Showing favoritism to one child over another.
8) Treating them unfairly.
Remember, though, that children will often feel that they have been treated unfairly even though they haven't been. But a child doesn't know what really is fair in every situation, so you cannot allow your child to determine this. The important thing is that you be fair and know that – as your child grows up – he or she will come to understand that you have been fair. Also remember that treating your children fairly does not necessarily mean treating them all the same way. Children are different, and it is very often unfair to treat them the same way. For example, when my daughter, Sarah, got her driver's license, she already knew that she would not get the same driving privileges that my son, Joshua, had when he first got his driver's license. This was not because I thought she would be a less responsible or a less capable driver, but simply because she is a girl and he is a guy, and I would not let my 16 or 17 year old daughter drive places at night the way I allowed my 16 or 17 year old son to do. It simply isn't as safe for a girl that age to be driving at night as it is for a guy. It would have been unfair, though, to Joshua if I had curtailed his driving privileges in order to treat him the same way as his sister. And it would have been unfair to Sarah if I took greater risks with her safety in order to treat her the same way as Joshua.
9) Neglecting our children and making them feel as though we don't love them. 
Withdrawing our love from our children is cruel, and if we don't pay attention to our children or show concern for their welfare, we are sending a message that we really don't care about them at all. This reminds me of an old anecdote: “A mother made an appointment with her young child's pediatrician. She said she had noticed that he had eaten dirt on several occasions. To the doctor, she said, 'I've always heard that if a child eats dirt, there is some deficiency. Do you think his dirt-eating indicates a lack of something?' The doctor replied, 'Yes-very definitely. A lack of supervision!'” (2000+ Bible Illustrations, e-Sword)
10)  Failing to offer them the encouragement they need.
e.g. A parent may work hard to avoid being hyper-critical of their children, but may still provoke them by holding back encouragement or praise when warranted. Both approaches can end up in the same place – with an exasperated child who is discouraged and thinks he will never measure up to his parents expectations or demands.
11)  Punishing them too harshly out of anger.
As D. Martin Lloyd-Jones once observed, “When you are disciplining a child, you should have first controlled yourself … What right have you to say to your child that he needs discipline when you obviously need it yourself? Self-control, the control of temper, is an essential prerequisite in the control of others” (As cited by John Stott, The Message of Ephesians, p.249).
These are just some possible examples of ways in which we may exasperate our children by disciplining them – or by failing to discipline them, as the case may be –  in a way that does not look to the example of our heavenly Father. But at this point we must also remember that when God disciplines us it is never an expression of His wrath, for we are promised that we shall never have to face His wrath because have been redeemed through the blood of Christ. For example:
NKJ  Romans 5:8-9 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.
NKJ  1 Thessalonians 1:8-10 For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything. 9 For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
NKJ  1 Thessalonians 5:8-9 But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ ….
Thus God's discipline of His adopted children in Christ is not an expression of wrath toward them but rather of love that seeks their good. Indeed, even the Lord Jesus Himself – who is God's only unique Son by nature rather than by adoption – “learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:8), and such suffering was most definitely not an expression of the Father's wrath toward Him, for Jesus never sinned and thus never incurred the Father's wrath in any sense (see Heb. 2:17-18 and 4:15-16 and recall that as our propitiation Jesus took upon Himself the wrath due our sins).

Thus we must seek to emulate our heavenly Father in this respect as well, and our discipline must not be seen by our children as an exhibition of wrath. Rather we must avoid disciplining them in anger and instead seek to show them that we are disciplining them out of love and for their good. For some parents, this means that they must take some time to cool down before they administer discipline to their children. For, even though discipline should be prompt, it should also be an expression of loving concern rather than the venting of a parent’s anger. Indeed, I would say, for example, that spanking done in anger is actually violence rather than discipline.

For what it's worth, when I had to discipline my children by spanking them when they were little, I tried never to do so when I was angry. I tried always to do so in a calm and loving way that tempered the punishment with mercy. So, for example, I would commonly explain to them that I had to spank them because I loved them and wanted them to learn obedience to the Lord. And frequently I would take part of the punishment on myself. So, for example, if Joshua had to be spanked, I would explain that I felt that he deserved a certain number of swats for what he had done – say, e.g., four – but when it came time to administer the final swat I would often then exclaim, “You know what, I think I'll take the last one for you.” And then I would swat my own behind as hard as I could. This would typically start Joshua laughing, but it also showed him mercy, as well as the concept of substitution that is so central to our idea of the atonement. I did this so that, as he got older, I could also explain substitutionary atonement more easily. It also turned these times into something we shared in an even deeper way and helped to reinforce that what was happening was a good thing.

At any rate, to bring up our children “in the training and admonition of the Lord” certainly means that we will follow the example of our heavenly Father in these ways, but it also means that we will bring them up in accordance with His Word. After all, it is in His Word that we find our Lord's instruction both for us and for our children. This, then, will be the focus of our next principle.

Stay tuned for the next post in the series, in which I shall discuss Principle #3.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Biblical Principles for Parenting: Part One

In the introduction to this series, I indicated that our focus would be upon four principles which relate in one way or another back to God as our heavenly Father and our supreme example for parenting. In this post I want to consider the first of these principles.

Principle #1: Our heavenly Father teaches us the importance of communicating to our children that we love them and that they are special to us.

Here we begin by recalling the doctrine of election, in which God declares that He has chosen us before the foundation of the world and has predestined us in His love to be His children. Paul stresses this point in his epistle to the Ephesians:
NKJ  Ephesians 1:3-6 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved.
We see how important it is to our heavenly Father to let us know that He has chosen us and that we are special to Him, even though we do not deserve it. This taught me a very important lesson as a young father, and I sought to let my children know how special they were to me as they grew up. In fact, from the time they were very little, I would often say to them, “If I could choose from all the children in the whole world to be my children, I would choose you!” I would regularly tell them, “I am so glad you are my son!” Or “I am so glad you are my daughter!” And I would regularly tell them how much I loved them, just as my heavenly Father has told me in so many ways that He loves me.

Our heavenly Father doesn't just tell us that He loves, though, He also shows us, as Paul reminds us in his Epistle to the Romans:
NKJ  Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
So, just as our heavenly Father demonstrated His love for us by giving His Son Jesus for our sins, even so we must demonstrate our love to our children. And just as our heavenly Father's love for us is unconditional, even so we must demonstrate an unconditional love for our children through forgiveness, patience, and loving discipline. And, although we shall deal more with the issue of discipline below, for now we must see that our children need to know that we desire their obedience because we love them. They must never be led to think that they must obey in order for us to love them. They must always see the tender mercy of our heavenly Father reflected in our love for them.

But our heavenly Father's love is not only unconditional, it is also steadfast and unfailing, as Paul goes on to stress later in the Epistle to the Romans:
NKJ  Romans 8:38-39 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Just as our heavenly Father wants us to know that He loves us with a sure and steadfast love, even so we must communicate to our children that we will always love them. The demonstration of such an unconditional and undying love will help our children to grasp the wonder of God's love for His children, the kind of love the Apostle John describes in his first epistle:
NKJ  1 John 3:1 Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.
NKJ  1 John 4:9-10 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
NKJ  1 John 4:16-19 And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. 17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. 19 We love Him because He first loved us.
Just as our heavenly Father has in His love for us removed all fear of His wrath and judgment toward us, even so we must show our children that they need not fear ever losing our love.

Thus we have seen examples of some of the ways in which our heavenly Father communicates His love for us. And in these passages we have seen not only that our heavenly Father tells us that He loves us, but also that He demonstrates His love for us through His actions. And this too is a crucial lesson for fathers. Just as our heavenly Father not only tells us He loves us, but also shows His love by giving His one and only Son for us, so also we must demonstrate our love for our children through our actions as well as our words. Such actions will be the primary focus of the remaining principles we shall examine.

Stay tuned for the next post in the series, in which I shall discuss Principle #2.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Biblical Principles for Parenting: Introduction

The Bible doesn't give us a parenting manual – a specific list of “how to's” for most any conceivable situation – but it does give us a number of important principles to apply in parenting our children, and, in order to adequately set forth these principles, I can think of no better place to begin that with the fact that God has revealed Himself to us as a Father. This means that we will discover the ideal of fatherhood expressed in His person both in relationship to Jesus, who is God's Son by nature, and in relationship to those of us who believe and are thus God's sons by adoption.

I personally have found this fact to be very helpful in my own journey as a father for – as some of this blog's readers can also attest – I did not have a very good role model in my earthly father, who divorced my mother when I was young and who did not become a Christian until after I had grown up and left home. I thus entered fatherhood as a believer with a fair amount of fear and trepidation. But I quickly discovered that, although I didn't have a good earthly father as an example to follow, I did have my heavenly Father as an example to follow. Thus over the years anything and everything I have learned about being a good father I have learned from Him. Indeed, the Scriptures invite me to do so, not only by way of implication due to the fact that God has revealed Himself as a Father to us, but also quite explicitly in numerous passages. For example, our Lord Jesus repeatedly invites us to see our heavenly Father as a pattern for our lives. Consider the following admonitions:
NKJ  Matthew 5:44-45 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
NKJ  Matthew 7:9-11 Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? 11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!
What better pattern for a father could there be, then, than our heavenly Father? I certainly cannot imagine a better model to follow. As J.C. Ryle has aptly noted in his classic work on The Duties of Parents:
The Bible tells us that God has an elect people, a family in this world. All poor sinners who have been convinced of sin, and fled to Jesus for peace, make up that family. All of us who really believe on Christ for salvation are its members. 
Now God the Father is ever training the members of this family for their everlasting abode with Him in heaven. He acts as a husbandman pruning his vines, that they may bear more fruit. He knows the character of each of us, our besetting sins, our weaknesses, our peculiar infirmities, our special needs. He knows our works and where we dwell, who are our companions in life, and what are our trials, what our temptations, and what are our privileges. He knows all these things, and is ever ordering all for our good. He allots to each of us, in His providence, the very things we need, in order to bear the most fruit—as much of sunshine as we can stand, and as much of rain, as much of bitter things as we can bear, and as much of sweet. Reader, if you would train your children wisely, mark well how God the Father trains His. He does all things well; the plan which He adopts must be right.
Thus each principle we will examine relates in one way or another back to God as our heavenly Father and our supreme example for parenting. The four principles will be as follows:
First, our heavenly Father teaches us the importance of letting our children know that we love them and that they are special to us.
Second, our heavenly Father teaches us the importance of the loving discipline of our children.
Third, our heavenly Father teaches us the importance of raising our children to know His Word.
Fourth, our heavenly Father teaches us the importance of a proper view of both a father's and a mother's role in the family.
Stay tuned for the rest of the series, in which I shall devote one post to each of these principles. In the meantime, if you have an interest in reading a couple of blog posts about motherhood, here you go:

For Mother's Day: How Motherhood Reflects the Character and Love of God

For Mother's Day: Honoring Your Mother

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"The Case for Credobaptism" by Samuel Renihan

Over at A Place for Truth, a blog of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, Samuel Renihan has written a very helpful article entitled The Case for Credobaptism. He offers a succinct but helpful summary of the Reformed Baptist position in fourteen concise, yet theologically packed, paragraphs. Here is the seventh paragraph, which highlights the heart of his covenantal argument for Credobaptism:
Looking to the parent-child relationship is a misdirected attempt to understand covenantal membership. Redirecting our attention to federal headship brings clarity and scriptural precision to the issue. We blame Adam, not our parents, for the curse. The Israelites looked to Abraham, not their parents, for a claim to Canaan and its blessings, and to the conduct of the king, not their parents, for tenure in the land. So also, children must look to Christ, not their parents, for a claim to his covenant. Consequently, there has never been a covenant wherein “believers and their children” constituted the paradigm for covenant membership. The promise (salvation in general, and the indwelling of the Spirit in particular) is proffered to them, just as it is to the whole world (Acts 2:16-41). We are born under Adam’s federal headship, and no one escapes the domain of darkness until God transfers them “to the kingdom of the beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:12-14).
I highly recommend his article as one of the best brief summaries that I have read of how Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology underpins Credobaptism. In addition, I would also recommend his excellent paper written jointly with Micah Renihan entitled Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Questions about the Atmosphere and Emotions in Worship

I have three simple questions relating to worship, though admittedly they may not have simple answers. I will begin by asking my first two questions, which are very similar, and will close by asking a third question.

1. What role should the atmosphere (energy level) of a worship service have in evoking emotions?  

2. To what degree should worship leaders seek to create an emotional atmosphere?

Lets be clear of what I am not asking. I am not asking if emotions are a part of worship. Most definitely they are. Without emotions, we cannot worship. I am not asking if emotions should be a response to the Word. For it is impossible to worship in Spirit and in truth without our emotions flowing from and being rooted in a clear presentation of Biblical doctrine. Because worship is a response to divine revelation, sound doctrine and gospel centered lyrics are vital in worship.

I am not asking if we should judge the emotional authenticity of worshipers. It is evident from thousands of lost souls that raise their hands and lose themselves in worship services each week at Lakewood Church in Houston that not all who love to worship are true worshipers. Because worship is a part of the human condition, loving to worship and being overwhelmed with emotions proves nothing about our faith in Christ. Even so, I am not asking how we discern authentic worship form synthetic worship. Because all emotions, when felt, are real for those who experience them, I don’t assume that the lady dancing with the music in the corner of the sanctuary is faking.

I am not asking which is better – traditional worship or contemporary worship. I am not asking you to make a judgment call upon which worship style is best. This is an important question with many variables, but I will let someone else ask that question.

More precisely, I am not even asking if we should desire an emotional response from congregational worship. As a pastor, I want our people to have a worshipful experience. At GBC, we purposefully handle our announcements before our Call of Worship for many reasons, but one of them is to not interrupt the natural flow of the service. It does not make sense to break away from worship after we have become emotionally engaged. In fact, the Call to Worship is designed to turn our thoughts and hearts away from the secular and point us towards the Lord. We desire the congregation to actively participate in listening to the sermon and to the prayers, and being active and vocal in singing God’s praises. Emotions (such as reverence, humility, love, joy, and thankfulness) are a vital part of worship.

My questions have nothing to do with the value and importance of emotions in worship. My questions are very narrow in scope. What role should the worship style play in creating an emotional experience for worshipers and should the church have a target emotional atmosphere for their services?

As you consider how to answer these questions, here are a few things to consider. At least these things are running through my mind as I think about these questions.

It seems evident enough that the atmosphere and energy level of a worship service play a part in the level and types of emotions that are evoked within the congregation. For instance, those unfamiliar with a traditional Lutheran service may think their service is void of emotions. Because there is little room for any free and spontaneous elements, with even their prayers being prewritten and scripted, the tendency is to think that Lutheran worship is robotic, dry, and dead. 

But this may not be the case at all. The Alter is fenced off as if the church is protecting something that is extremely sacred; the priest slowly and carefully conducts the service with such precision as if he is treading on holy ground. Even the motion of his hands has sacred implications. A sense of seriousness and weightiness seems to fill the room. Though this is not an environment conducive for clapping, raising hands, and dancing, it does not mean that the congregation is not worshiping God. A deep sense of God’s holiness and a feeling of awe and reverence may be overwhelming the hearts of congregants. 

On the other end of the spectrum, we have worship services that resemble a multisensory concert. Rather than a solemn and reverent atmosphere, there is the feeling of excitement, freedom, and joy. There is energy – lots of it – in the air. Those leading worship are not moving slowly with calculated precision as in the Lutheran service, they are full of excitement and their movements are more spontaneous. Rather than a priest full of years and maturity conducting the service, the stage is full of young life and vitality. Stage lights are flashing rapidly, smoke is rising in the air, the beat of the music is building momentum, and the band is becoming increasingly animated.

This atmosphere would naturally provoke a different type of feeling and even a more intense level of emotions. Passionate music, a strong beat, stage lighting, and the high energy level seems to create a highly intense atmosphere that provokes a different type of an emotional response than which is experienced in the Lutheran service. Those who worship in this environment may be swept up with a joy that is unspeakable as they feel deeply moved with much passion and energy to praise the Lord.

People are like sheep – especially in large group settings. Our emotions are easily influenced, directed, and even manipulated. The environment, atmosphere, and ambiance are powerful influences upon our emotions. Music alone can move us like a boat adrift at sea. We feed off one another’s emotions. I don’t know if any of us understand the exact relationship between our physical senses and our emotions, but there is most defiantly is a link between our environment and how we feel.

Though it is impossible for our emotions not to be influenced by the tempo of the music, the style and order of the worship, and the overall atmosphere of the service, how much should our emotions be influenced by these factors and how much should they be influenced by the truth of the gospel? Not that the answer can be neatly measured, but how much attention should be given to choreographing the emotional atmosphere of a worship service? Is there a target atmosphere that worship leaders should seek to create? To what degree should the atmosphere influence our emotional experiences in worship? Knowing that the manner in which we structure our services (from the song selections and arrangement of the music to the lighting of the sanctuary) will have an impact upon our emotions, how should this knowledge affect the way we conduct and structure our congregational worship?

3. My last question is, are these even relevant questions? I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject, but only if you are able speak about this heated subject without getting too emotional.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"The State of Theology: Theological Awareness Benchmark Study" by Ligonier Ministries

Ligonier Ministries has published the results of a survey conducted in order to assess the theological understanding and awareness of our fellow citizens. Here is the description of the survey:
It is Ligonier's desire to serve the church in fulfilling the Great Commission. This survey has helped to point out common gaps in theological knowledge and awareness so that Christians might be more effective in the proclamation, teaching, and defense of the essential truths of the Christian faith. View the infographic [pictured at right], listen to Dr. R.C. Sproul discuss these findings on Renewing Your Mind, or download the official white paper and survey with key findings.
The Executive Summary included in the official white paper goes on to state:
Ligonier Ministries is “committed to faithfully presenting the unvarnished truth of Scripture to help people grow in their knowledge of God and His holiness.” Anecdotal evidence has shown an increasing lack of theological understanding in America, both outside and inside the church. Ligonier Ministries wanted to understand with accuracy the extent of the need to improve that understanding. Ligonier Ministries commissioned a research study by LifeWay Research to measure the theological awareness of adult Americans. Ligonier Ministries identified specific doctrines and heresies that they wanted to test. LifeWay Research helped refine these questions and to conduct a survey of 3,000 Americans. Questions focused on seven key doctrinal areas and included a number of specific areas where Americans differ from historic and orthodox views.
The key doctrinal areas covered by the study include beliefs about God, beliefs about goodness and sin, beliefs about salvation and religious texts, beliefs about heaven and hell, beliefs about the church, and beliefs about authority. For those of us who are devoted to the Scriptures as our ultimate authority, who care about a correct understanding of truth, and who therefore have been paying particular attention to the disintegration of our culture and the deplorable state of professing Evangelical Christianity, many of the survey's finding will come as no surprise. However, some of the findings might surprise you, especially when the views of those identified as Evangelical Protestants are compared to the common views of Americans who are not Evangelical Protestants. For example, 64% of Americans surveyed agreed with the statement that "A person obtains peace with God by first taking the initiative to seek God & then God responds with grace" (which is not surprising), but 68% of those identified as Evangelical Protestants also agreed with the statement (which I find a bit surprising, given that even an Arminian should no better). At any rate, I thought the readers of this blog would find the study both interesting and helpful. Feel free to let us know what you think.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Psalm 133 – The Blessing of Unity (Teaching Outline)

Note: As with most of the the other outlines I have posted on this blog, this expositional outline was originally used for teaching on a Sunday morning at Immanuel Baptist Church, where I have been blessed to serve as the primary teaching elder for more than twenty years. This outline is yet another sample of the kind of expository teaching to which we Reformed Baptist pastors are committed and about which we are so passionate. If you wish to hear the audio of the teaching from back in 2012, you can listen here.

Introduction: What measures did you take to prepare your heart before you came here this morning to worship the Lord? Did you spend time in prayer about it last night? Did you pray about it when you woke up this morning? Did you perhaps sing or listen to worship songs at home or in the car on the way here? Or did you do nothing in particular? If not, then I encourage you to pay special attention to this morning's teaching, for we will see that David thought it was very important to prepare our hearts as we come together as a community of believers to worship the Lord. It is my hope that we will all learn from him today more about how we ought to come before the Lord in worship.

Notice first of all that this psalm has a title: “A Song of Ascents. Of David.” The Songs of Ascents are made up of Psalms 120-134. These fifteen Psalms were apparently written to be sung by the people of the Lord as they went up to the Temple in Jerusalem to worship. They may therefore be regarded as songs designed to prepare the hearts of the people for worship in the Temple. As we shall see in Psalm 133, this meant that the people were prepared for worship only if they recognized the blessing and importance of doing so as a part of a community of the faithful. With this in mind, let's turn our attention now to verse 1.
NKJ  Psalm 133:1 Behold [הִנֵּה, hinnēh], how good and how pleasant it is for brethren [אָח, āḥ] to dwell together in unity!
Charles Spurgeon comments helpfully on David's call to “behold” the unity of the brethren when he writes:
It is a wonder seldom seen, therefore behold it! It may be seen, for it is the characteristic of real saints, therefore fail not to inspect it! It is well worthy of admiration; pause and gaze upon it! It will charm you into imitation, therefore note it well! God looks on with approval, therefore consider it with attention. (Treasury of David, e-Sword).
I think he has captured well the sense of wonder and excitement David wants us to have as we consider with him the blessing of the brethren who live together before the Lord in unity. But it is important to recognize that, when David speaks of the “brethren” here, he does not have in mind only close family relationships. Rather he has in mind at a minimum all of his fellow Israelites who find their unity in their common commitment to the Law of God. This is in keeping with other Old Testament uses of the Hebrew word for brother or brethren, which also clearly demonstrate such a meaning. For example, let's take a look at just a few instances in the Book of Deuteronomy:
NKJ  Deuteronomy 15:1-3 At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release of debts. 2 And this is the form of the release: Every creditor who has lent anything to his neighbor shall release it; he shall not require it of his neighbor or his brother, because it is called the LORD's release. 3 Of a foreigner you may require it; but you shall give up your claim to what is owed by your brother [אָח, āḥ] ….
Notice that a “brother” here is not just a member of one's immediate family, but anyone who is not a foreigner, even if that person is poor. In other words, a brother is a fellow Israelite, no matter what his social standing. We see the same thing as we look further on in the same passage:
NKJ  Deuteronomy 15:12 If your brother [אָח, āḥ], a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and serves you six years, then in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you.
Again we see that a fellow Israelite is regarded as a “brother” even if he is of inferior social standing, in this case even if he is a slave.
NKJ  Deuteronomy 25:1-3 If there is a dispute between men, and they come to court, that the judges may judge them, and they justify the righteous and condemn the wicked, 2 then it shall be, if the wicked man deserves to be beaten, that the judge will cause him to lie down and be beaten in his presence, according to his guilt, with a certain number of blows. 3 Forty blows he may give him and no more, lest he should exceed this and beat him with many blows above these, and your brother [אָח, āḥ] be humiliated in your sight.
Notice in this case that a fellow Israelite is to be regarded as a “brother” even if he has offended you and deserves to be punished. And because he is your brother you should want to be merciful to him even if you have to inflict punishment upon him.

Thus we have seen that the Old Testament usage of the term brother could refer not just to one's immediate family, but to anyone who is a fellow Israelite. However, I would argue that David's usage of the term here, while similarly broader than simply one's own immediate family, is nevertheless restricted to only some other Israelites, namely those who are like-minded in their commitment to the Lord. For in this context David has in mind all of those who come together to worship the Lord, no matter who they are. He is speaking, then, of the community of the faithful as though they are themselves a family, a spiritual family, if you will.

Remember that this is a “Song of Ascents,” intended to be sung by the faithful who travel to Jerusalem and go up to the Temple to worship. So, when David refers to the “brethren” in verse 1, he means all those who come to worship God together, no matter who they are – no matter what their social or economic standing (Deut. 15:3,12), and no matter whether or not they may have offended you at some point (Deut. 25:3).

But, although David wrote this Psalm to be sung as one ascended up to Jerusalem and to the Temple to worship, and in order to describe the unity of such people, he clearly intends that the unity expressed as they worship together should also be present in the totality of their lives as they “dwell together” – or live together – in the land. Otherwise, they could not sing this song with sincerity when they came to worship. 

David is assuming, then, that sincere worship is reflected in our lives and in the way we treat one another, and he is assuming that sincere worship can only take place when we live together in unity as we should. In this he anticipates Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, when He said:
NKJ  Matthew 5:23-24 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
Jesus clearly assumes that we cannot truly worship the Lord if there is a problem in our relationship with a brother, if there is a sin that has not been reconciled. Thus we may see that because of our sins we may often have obstacles to unity.

William Barrick, Professor of Old Testament at The Master’s Seminary, reminds us of the potential obstacles to unity the ancient Israelite believers may themselves have faced as they traveled to Jerusalem to worship:
Pilgrims faced not only the potential disharmony within individual families, but the tensions of getting along with others in competition for the same resources for lodging, food, and water. In addition, there may have been clan rivalries that could disrupt the peace of a pilgrim encampment after days of weary travel. (Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs: The Master Musician’s Melodies, p. 2)
We too experience many obstacles to genuine worship don't we? For example, we also have to travel to worship the Lord together on Sunday morning, and there may be any number of distractions as we travel, ranging from bad drivers on the road, unexpected delays, cranky children in the back seat, a cold shoulder from a spouse that we should have told we were sorry for something we said or did the night before, the sudden reminder of a problem at work, and so on. 

But despite such obstacles, the Lord would have us remember “how good and how pleasant”  it is for us to live together in unity with our spiritual brothers and sisters. This will help to motivate us to put things right with others before we come to worship Him. It will help us to remember that we must not only love God with all our heart, but that we cannot really do so if we do not also love our brother.

However, we might be thinking about how hard this is, and we might be wondering how on earth we could ever come consistently before the Lord with such love and unity between us. Well, David points us to the answer in the next two verses, where he reminds us of the fact that such unity is first and foremost a blessing that comes from God.
NKJ  Psalm 133:2 It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down[יָרַד, yāraḏ] on the beard, the beard of Aaron, running down [יָרַד, yāraḏ] on the edge of his garments.
At first we might be wondering what on earth oil running down Aaron's beard has to do with unity, or with how good and pleasant unity is! How can unity be like oil? Well, perhaps we will understand better if we find out a bit more about this oil. For the “precious oil” mentioned here is oil that was especially mixed with spices and was to be used only for the anointing of the priests and the articles of the Tabernacle – and later the Temple. We read about this precious oil in Exodus 30:
NKJ  Exodus 30:22-33 Moreover the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 23 “Also take for yourself quality spices – five hundred shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much sweet-smelling cinnamon (two hundred and fifty shekels), two hundred and fifty shekels of sweet-smelling cane, 24 five hundred shekels of cassia, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, and a hin of olive oil. 25 And you shall make from these a holy anointing oil, an ointment compounded according to the art of the perfumer. It shall be a holy anointing oil. 26 With it you shall anoint the tabernacle of meeting and the ark of the Testimony; 27 the table and all its utensils, the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense; 28 the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the laver and its base. 29 You shall consecrate them, that they may be most holy; whatever touches them must be holy. 30 And you shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may minister to Me as priests. 31 And you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: 'This shall be a holy anointing oil to Me throughout your generations. 32 It shall not be poured on man's flesh; nor shall you make any other like it, according to its composition. It is holy, and it shall be holy to you. 33 Whoever compounds any like it, or whoever puts any of it on an outsider, shall be cut off from his people.'” 
So, we see that, in comparing the goodness and pleasantness of unity between believers to the precious anointing oil, David pictures this unity as something that is special, valuable, unique, giving off a sweet aroma – i.e. creating a pleasant atmosphere around us – and, above all, he pictures such unity as something that is holy. This oil signifies that which is precious to God. And the anointing of Aaron with this oil signified God's special blessing upon him.

David also describes this oil as “running down” Aaron's beard and his garments. So, he wishes for us to see our unity not only as a special sign of God's blessing, but as a sign of His blessing poured out in abundance.
NKJ  Psalm 133:3 It is like the dew of Hermon, descending [יָרַד, yāraḏ] upon the mountains of Zion; for there the LORD commanded the blessing -- Life forevermore.
Willem VanGemeren describes the significance of this metaphor when he writes:
Because of the high altitude of Mount Hermon (nearly ten thousand feet above sea level) and the precipitation in the forms of rain, snow, and dew, Mount Hermon was proverbial for its lush greenery even during the summer months … and for its dew that sustained the vegetation. (Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol.5, p. 817)
David describes the unity of God's people as they live and worship together as though the dew of Hermon had descended upon Zion. He thus pictures God's people living and worshiping together in unity as something that is so refreshing that it is as though God had caused the dew of Hermon to fall upon Jerusalem.

When David says “there” the LORD commanded the blessing, he perhaps means at Zion, the particular place where God's people came to worship. But it is likely that by “there” he simply means wherever God's people live and worship in unity. Derek Kidner was right on when he wrote:
The second half of verse 3, with its strong accent on God's initiative (commanded) and on what is only His to give (life forevermore), clinches another emphasis of the psalm, which is made by a threefold repetition, partly lost in translation: literally, 'descending' (2a)… 'descending' (2b)…  'descending' (3a). In short, true unity, like all good gifts, is from above; bestowed rather than contrived, a blessing far more than an achievement. (Tyndale Old Testament Commentary, Vol. 14b, p. 453)
By ending with a focus on the ultimate blessing of Godeverlasting life – as something experienced in unity with God's people, David emphasizes a very important fact that too many do not understand in the Church, namely that we are not fully experiencing the joy of the life we have from God if we are not experiencing it together! Where there is not real unity among believers, there is lacking also a full expression of the life of the age to come in the here and now!

Paul made essentially the same point when he addressed some issues that could potentially disrupt the unity of the church in Rome:
NKJ  Romans 14:13-19 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother's way. 14 I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.
Jesus also taught this important truth when He said that our joy would be full in the experience of love toward one another:
NKJ  John 15:9-12 As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. 12 This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
Conclusion: It is my hope that today we will all commit ourselves more fully and passionately than ever to Christ and to His body, the Church. We must never forget that the Christian faith is about relationships. It is about our relationship first to God, and then to one another, and these two spheres of interpersonal relationships cannot be severed. As the Apostle John reminds us:
NKJ  1 John 4:20-21 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? 21 And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Mark Driscoll Resigns From Mars Hill Church

In an article entitled BREAKING: Mark Driscoll resigns from Mars Hill Church, Religion News Service broke the story today that Mark Driscoll has resigned as pastor of Mars Hill Church. Here is the opening portion of the article:
(RNS) Mark Driscoll, the larger-than-life megachurch pastor who has been accused of plagiarism, bullying and an unhealthy ego that alienated his most devoted followers, resigned from his Seattle church Tuesday (Oct. 14), according to a document obtained by RNS. 
The divisive Seattle pastor had announced his plan to step aside for at least six weeks in August while his church investigated the charges against him. Driscoll’s resignation came shortly after the church concluded its investigation. 
“Recent months have proven unhealthy for our family — even physically unsafe at times — and we believe the time has now come for the elders to choose new pastoral leadership for Mars Hill,” Driscoll wrote in his resignation letter.
Driscoll was not asked to resign from the church he started 18 years ago, according to a letter from the church’s board of overseers. “Indeed, we were surprised to receive his resignation letter,” they wrote.
RNS appears to have done a thorough and fair job of reporting on this issue, and the articles linked should put things in perspective as far as the order of events and basic issues are involved. It is sad to see such a failure, but it is not altogether unexpected when a man begins his ministry as a maverick who was unqualified to pastor when he first took on the task anyway. Let us all learn from this just how important it is not to put a novice into pastoral ministry and then proceed to enable him for years simply because he becomes popular.

Update 28 October 2014

Warren Throckmorton, who has been one of the writes who has broken many parts of the story concerning the saga of Mars Hill Church and Mark Driscoll, issued the following report on October 19: Mars Hill Church Board of Elders: Mark Driscoll Resigned Instead of Entering a Restoration Plan. At this point, who among us could really be surprised?

Update 8 November 2014

It is now being widely reported now that Mars Hill Church has announced that it will dissolve the church and sell all of its property (see here for example). A post at the church's website states:
Following much prayer and lengthy discussion with Mars Hill’s leadership, the board of Mars Hill has concluded that rather than remaining a centralized multi-site church with video-led teaching distributed to multiple locations, the best future for each of our existing local churches is for them to become autonomous self-governed entities. This means that each of our locations has an opportunity to become a new church, rooted in the best of what Mars Hill has been in the past, and independently led and run by its own local elder teams. 
We recognize this reorganization plan is a significant and complex undertaking on many fronts; however, our goal is to have the process completed by January 1st, 2015.
May the Lord give the leaders of this church wisdom to begin following His Word more closely in the future.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Christ Our Kinsman Redeemer

Note: The following is a teaching outline on Ruth 2:20, in which Boaz is described as a goël – a kinsman redeemer – which not only enabled him to become an ancestor of our Lord Jesus Christ but also enabled him to serve as a type of Christ as well.

Introduction: The LORD adopts a number of metaphors by which He reveals to us the salvation He has wrought on our behalf. Among these metaphors is the metaphor of redemption, which literally refers to the action taken and the price paid to redeem someone from poverty or slavery. In fact, God later takes up the very term used of Boaz in the second chapter of Ruth in order to describe Himself as our Redeemer. Let's take a look again at the account in Ruth to see where this term is first used:
NKJ  Ruth 2:20 “Then Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, 'Blessed be he of the LORD, who has not forsaken His kindness to the living and the dead!' And Naomi said to her, “This man is a relation [קָרֹב, lit. a near one] of ours, one of our close relatives [גֹּאֵל, goël, Qal Participle > גָּאַל, gā’al, redeem].”
A person could act as a goël – or redeemer – on behalf of another family member in a number of instances. For example, the New Geneva Study Bible correctly lists at least four ways in which this could be done:
The law of redemption now comes into view. According to this law, the nearest male blood relative had the duty of preserving the family name and property. This duty could entail (a) avenging the death of a family member (Num. 35:19-21); (b) buying back family property that had been sold to pay debts (Lev. 25:25); (c)  buying back a relative who had sold himself into slavery to pay debts (Lev. 25:47-49); and (d) marrying the widow of a deceased relative (Deut. 25:5-10).
It is this latter means of acting as a kinsman-redeemer that is in view in the Book of Ruth, where Boaz marries Ruth in order to provide an heir for her deceased husband Mahlon, but this role is combined with Boaz's redemption of the land that had belonged to Naomi's husband and brothers as well (4:3-10). Let's take a few minutes, then, to review one of the key passages that describes the role of such a kinsman-redeemer so that we can get in our minds the proper background for our study of how it foreshadows the salvation we now have in Christ. The passage we will examine focuses particularly on the redemption of a family member from slavery:
NKJ  Leviticus 25:25, 47-49 “If one of your brethren becomes poor, and has sold some of his possession, and if his redeeming relative [גֹּאֵל, goël] comes to redeem it, then he may redeem what his brother sold. [And then later in the passage we read…] 47 Now if a sojourner or stranger close to you becomes rich, and one of your brethren who dwells by him becomes poor, and sells himself to the stranger or sojourner close to you, or to a member of the stranger's family, 48 after he is sold he may be redeemed again. One of his brothers may redeem him; 49 or his uncle or his uncle's son may redeem him; or anyone who is near of kin to him in his family may redeem him; or if he is able he may redeem himself.”
Notice that there are at least three conditions that must be in place if one is going to be helped by a goël: 1) The goël must be a kinsman, 2) he must possess the means to pay price of redemption, and 3) he must be willing to do so, for the text says that the kinsman may redeem his brother from slavery, not that he must do it. As we consider the way that God took up the metaphor of the goël and applied it to His own saving action in Christ, these factors will become important in our understanding of what He has done. But first we must see 1) how God described Himself as our Goël, 2) how He promised a Messiah who would be our Goël, and 3) how Jesus became our Goël in fulfillment of God's promise.

I. God Described Himself as Our Goël

In fact, this is a special theme in the Book of Isaiah, where the term goël is used repeatedly and exclusively in reference to the LORD Himself. For example:
NKJ  Isaiah 44:6 “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer [גֹּאֵל, goël], the LORD of hosts: 'I am the First and I am the Last; besides Me there is no God.'”
NKJ  Isaiah 44:24 “Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer [גֹּאֵל, goël], and He who formed you from the womb: 'I am the LORD, who makes all things, Who stretches out the heavens all alone, Who spreads abroad the earth by Myself….'”
NKJ  Isaiah 47:4 “As for our Redeemer [גֹּאֵל, goël], the LORD of hosts is His name, the Holy One of Israel.”
NKJ  Isaiah 48:17 “Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer [גֹּאֵל, goël], the Holy One of Israel: 'I am the LORD your God, Who teaches you to profit, Who leads you by the way you should go.'”
NKJ  Isaiah 54:5-6 “For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is His name; and your Redeemer [גֹּאֵל, goël] is the Holy One of Israel; He is called the God of the whole earth. 6 For the LORD has called you like a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, like a youthful wife when you were refused,' Says your God.'”
NKJ  Isaiah 54:8 “'With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment; but with everlasting kindness [חֶסֶד, ḥeseḏ] I will have mercy on you,' Says the LORD, your Redeemer [גֹּאֵל, goël].”
This last reference is particularly noteworthy, in that it combines a reference to God as our Goël with His ḥeseḏ (kindness) toward us, and this is similar to the way these concepts are combined in Ruth chapter 2. Recall again Naomi's words in verse 20:
NKJ  Ruth 2:20 “Then Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, 'Blessed be he of the LORD, who has not forsaken His kindness [חֶסֶד, ḥeseḏ] to the living and the dead!' And Naomi said to her, 'This man is a relation of ours, one of our close relatives [גֹּאֵל, goël].'”
Even so God describes His work as our Goël as a manifestation of His everlasting kindness toward us (Isa. 54:8), which led to His promise of salvation through Christ. And this brings us to the second point.

II. God Promised a Messiah Who Would Be Our Goël

The LORD describes how He will redeem His people in a key passage found in Isaiah 52-53. Let's take a brief look at a a couple portions of this passage:
NKJ  Isaiah 52:9-10 “Break forth into joy, sing together, you waste places of Jerusalem! For the LORD has comforted His people, He has redeemed [גָּאַל, gā’al] Jerusalem. 10 The LORD has made bare His holy arm In the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.”
After this the LORD speaks of a servant who would come in the so-called “servant song” beginning in 52:13 and extending all the way through 53:12. Let's just read verses 1-6 of chapter 53:
NKJ  Isaiah 53:1-6 “Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. 3 He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. 4 Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” [Note: Peter applies this text to Jesus our Savior in 1 Pet. 2:24-25.]
We see here that the promised Messiah would be a suffering servant who would die in our place and bear our sins, taking upon Himself the punishment we deserve. He would pay the price to redeem us from slavery to sin. This is why, later on in Isaiah, the Lord specifically refers to the coming Servant or Messiah in the same way He has referred to Himself, as a Goël:
NKJ  Isaiah 59:20 “'The Redeemer [גֹּאֵל, goël] will come to Zion, and to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,' Says the LORD.”
The Apostle Paul cites this passage with reference to the work of Christ in Romans 11:
NKJ  Romans 11:25-27 “For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: 'The Deliverer [ῥύομαι, based on LXX] will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; 27 for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.'” [Note: Paul seems to combine his citation of Isa. 59:20-21 with allusions to Ps. 14:7 (“salvation… out of Zion”) and Isa. 27:9 (“taking away… sin”).]
And so we have found not only that the LORD repeatedly referred to Himself as our Goël, but that He also referred to the promised Messiah as our Goël. So let's turn our attention now to the last point.

III. Jesus Became our Goël in Fulfillment of God's Promise

Remember that earlier we saw that there are at least three conditions that must be in place if one is going to be helped by a goël: 1) The goël must be a kinsman, 2) he must possess the means to pay price of redemption, and 3) he must be willing to do so. I would submit to you that all three of these conditions were met by Lord Jesus Christ on our behalf.

First, Jesus was a kinsman who could serve as our Redeemer. He was one of our brethren. In fact, this was a primary purpose of the incarnation, as the author of Hebrews makes quite clear:
NKJ  Hebrews 2:9-11, 14-17 “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone. 10 For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11 For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren …. [Then in verse 14 he stresses that …] 14 Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. 16 For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham. 17 Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”
Second, Jesus possessed the means to serve as our Redeemer. He alone was able to pay the price of redemption. Consider, for example, the words of the Apostle Peter:
NKJ  1 Peter 1:17-19 “And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; 18 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.”
Third, Jesus was willing to act as our Redeemer. He was willing to give His life as the price for our redemption. In fact, Jesus Himself made this perfectly clear when He said:
NKJ  John 10:14-18 “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15 As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd. 17 Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. 18 No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”
Conclusion: I hope that we have gained through this brief study a greater appreciation for how the LORD has acted to save us through His Son Jesus Christ. And I hope we have gained a greater appreciation for how the work of the goël Boaz– the kinsman redeemer – foreshadowed His saving work.