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Is Your Church Messy Enough
September 15, 2016

I love my church. I love the people I gather with week-by-week. They are fun and safe and easy to be with. But who said church should be safe and easy? What if one of the marks of a good church, a blessed church, is that it’s a messy church?

I’m sure you know of the parable of The Lost Sheep in Luke 15. We call it “The Parable of The Lost Sheep” but it is actually “The Parable of the Kind and Loving Shepherd.” The sheep aren’t the point of the story. Like so many of Jesus’ parables, this parable was told in the presence of two groups of people—people who were convinced of their own badness and people who were convinced of their own goodness. And in this case Jesus was speaking primarily to those good and religious people.

The parable is simple: A sheep has wandered off from the flock and become lost. The shepherd will not rest until he has found it and restored it to himself. He goes, he searches, he finds, he restores, he rejoices. Just think about that silly, helpless sheeping, wandering lost and alone in the wilderness. Think about that tired shepherd who had to go wandering far and wide to find him. Think of the ways he could have responded when he finally tracked it down.

The shepherd finds his sheep and rebukes it: “You stupid, ignorant sheep. How dare you wander off from me?” No. He doesn’t rebuke it.

The shepherd finds his sheep and punishes it: “You dumb, disobedient sheep. I’ll teach you to wander off!” No, he doesn’t punish it.

The shepherd finds his sheep and is disgusted by it: “You are filthy and smelly! What on earth did you get into? You go clean yourself up right now and I’ll come back later.” No, he doesn’t make it clean itself up.

The shepherd finds his sheep and sells it: “I can’t have a sheep like you polluting my flock. Do you know how you made me look in front of everyone else?” No, he doesn’t get rid of it.

“And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.” Yeah, that’s the one. When that shepherd finds his sheep, he cares for it. He hoists that big, heavy, dirty sheep onto his shoulders and carries it home, rejoicing all the way. He carries it home and calls his friends and throws a party to celebrate.

The point of the parable is that God loves to save the lost. He loves to save sinners. He doesn’t save those who are righteous and whose lives are all put together, he saves those who are just plain bad. He saves the messy ones, not the ones who are convinced they are clean.

If God is in the business of saving sinners, we need to expect that church will be full of sinners—those who are still wandering and those who have only just been found. If our churches reflect God’s heart for the lost, they will be full of people with problems, full of people showing the consequences of a lifetime of wandering. And this means that church may not be a safe and easy place. It may not be a place full of people who have it all together. It may be messy. It should be messy. Thank God if it is messy.

Think on These Things? What Things?
September 14, 2016

What makes holy people holy? What makes unholy people unholy? To a large degree it is what fills their minds and their hearts. This is why the battle for holiness is first a battle to flood your mind and heart with the right things, the best things, and why it’s equally a battle to avoid flooding your mind and heart with the wrong things, the worst things. So let me ask you, when it comes to what you see, what you watch, what you read, what you ponder, what you enjoy, what you find entertaining, what fills your mind and thrills your heart—what is your standard? What do you invite into your mind, your heart, your life? What do you deliberately keep out? What is your standard? Here are three options, each a variation of Philippians 4:8.

Finally, brothers, whatever is false, whatever is dishonorable, whatever is unjust, whatever is perverse, whatever is repulsive, whatever is unworthy, if there is any imperfection, if there is anything unworthy of honor, think about these things—give weight and value to them, and allow them to influence the way you live. They will. They must.

Finally, brothers, whatever is reasonably accurate, whatever isn’t too outrageous, whatever is minimally unjust, whatever isn’t wildly impure, whatever isn’t absolutely vile, whatever doesn’t make you too uncomfortable, if there is anything that isn’t too far gone, if there is anything that’s not completely without virtue, think on these things—fill your mind with them, let them go down deep within, and live accordingly.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things—think about them until they fill your mind and heart and rejoice as they then work themselves out in loving behavior toward both God and man.

I ask again, what’s your standard?

Recently, at the death of Alec Motyer, a number of people wrote remembrances of the man and a common thread was his holiness. Perhaps Motyer was deeply impacted by these verses as he wrote his excellent commentary on them. As he wrote that commentary he recorded this challenge:

We are to meditate on, to prize as valuable, and to be influenced by all that is true, all that merits serious thought and encourages serious-mindedness, all that accords with justice and moral purity, all that is fragrant and lovely, all that brings with it a good word, that speaks well, whatever has genuine worth of any sort and merits praise. It is the will of God that by giving attention to things of which he approves we should shape our minds to be like his: to those who do so, he pledges his guardian peace and his own presence as the God of peace. (The Message of Philippians)

Motyer was preceded into glory by Jerry Bridges, another man who was spoken of with respect and honor for his holiness, for his desire to please God in all he did and said. Here is what he wrote in his great work, The Pursuit of Holiness:

As Christians we are no longer to be conformed to the pattern of this world but we are to be renewed in our minds (Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:23; 1 Peter 1:14). Holiness begins in our minds and works out to our actions. This being true, what we allow to enter our minds is critically important. The television programs we watch, the movies we may attend, the books and magazines we read, the music we listen to, and the conversations we have all affect our minds. We need to evaluate the effects of these avenues honestly, using Philippians 4:8 as a standard. Are the thoughts stimulated by these various avenues true? Are they pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy?

So I ask one more time: What’s your standard?

Let me give the final word to Charles Simeon: “Think of their nature, that you may be apprised of their extent: think of their obligation, that you may be aware of their importance: think of their difficulty, that you may obtain help from your God: think of their excellency, that you may be stirred up to abound in them: and think of their complicated effects on the world around you, that you may make your light to shine before men, and that others, beholding it, may glorify your Father that is in heaven.” Think on these things!

What God Does With Your Sin
September 12, 2016

Sometimes it’s better to show than to tell. Sometimes it’s more effective to rely on illustration than description. Maybe this is especially the case when we are distressed, ashamed, or sorrowful, when emotions threaten to displace reason. In those moments, God comforts us not only with descriptions of what he does with our sin, but also with vivid illustrations. Are you distressed by what you’ve done? Do you hear whispers that you have sinned beyond God’s desire or ability to forgive? Let these illustrations comfort you. Listen to—no, see!—all that God does with your sin.

God throws your sin into the sea (Micah 7:19). Here is a clear reference to the Exodus when God rescued his people by drowning Pharaoh and his army in the sea. John MacKay says, “The Egyptians were prevented from catching up with the fleeing Israelites and reversing their deliverance. The freedom of the people of God will not be marred by some consequence of their past sin catching up with them to spoil their delight in the provision God has made for them.” Not a single Egyptian soldier crawled onto the bank to continue to torment Israel. Not a single one of your sins will continue to torment your soul.

God treads your sin underfoot (Micah 7:19). God doesn’t only drown your sins in the sea, but he also stomps them under his feet. Richard Phillips explains the illustration this way: “God responds to our sins the way a protective parent destroys a snake in the children’s playground.” He throws it to the ground, stomps on it, reduces it to nothing. He grinds it underfoot until it is dead and gone.

God throws your sin behind his back (Isaiah 38:17). God drowns it, he stomps, and he also tosses it away. You would only throw something that is insignificant to you, something you are willing to forget about. Your sin has been so thoroughly dealt with that it is as if God tossed it behind him where he can no longer see it, where he no longer cares about it.

God blots out your sin (Isaiah 43:25). To blot out sin is to so utterly destroy it is as if it never existed. While “blotting out” is often a judgment of wrath against God’s enemies, here it is a judgment of mercy toward his friends. John Oswalt says, “In this instance what he does is to erase from the record every trace of the transgression and sin of his people, not once but continually and forever so that he cannot remember it.” He blots it out of his books, out of his mind, out of his memory, out of the ways he would otherwise treat you. It’s gone!

God forgets your sin (Hebrews 8:12). God’s forgetfulness is a repeated promise and encouragement in both the Old Testament and the New. The God who blots out sin must also forget those sins, to forget them in the sense of never again bringing them to mind and never again making you face the consequences of judgment for them.

God removes your sin (Psalm 103:12). This was David’s proclamation in Psalm 103: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” How far is east from west? Infinitely far! How far has God removed your sin from you? Every bit as far as that.

God covers your sin (Romans 4:7-8). David marveled that God removed his sin, and he equally marveled that God covered his sin. “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” There is no greater blessing than this, to have your sins covered by another. Paul also marvels at this fact in Romans 4. If it brought comfort to David and Paul, shouldn’t it bring comfort to you?

God takes away your sin. When John the Baptist saw Jesus he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Through Jesus, God would take away your sin. This act of taking away means something like “bear off” or “carry away.” Through the sacrifice of Jesus, your sin would be carried away like an unbearable burden, borne away by one fit to carry it.

God cancels the debt of your sin (Colossians 2:14). Sin creates a legal debt, a conviction of the law-breaker in the courtroom of the law-giver. God cancels that debt on your behalf by issuing a verdict of not guilty. “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14). You are not guilty!

God washes your sin (Isaiah 1:18). Your sin is like bloodstains on a white dress. They stand out, they mark, they mar, they ruin. But God promises “Come, now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall by white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” He washes those sins from scarlet to snow, from crimson to pure wool.

God forgives your sin (1 John 1:9). Your sin creates disunity between you and your creator, but God graciously forgives that sin. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

So, what does God do with your sin? He throws it behind his back, drowns it in the sea, treads it underfoot, blots it out, forgets it, removes it, covers it, takes it away, cancels it, washes it, and forgives it. And God can do and will do all of this in the present because of one thing he did in the past.

God laid your sin on Jesus. To understand this, we need to zoom back in time a little to the Old Testament sacrificial system. In that system a goat—a scapegoat—would be seen to symbolically take on human sin. It would then be sent to wander in the wilderness away from God’s people. Here’s how God commands it in the book of Leviticus. “And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.” The goat would never return, symbolizing that the people’s sin would never return upon them.

This unusual act finds its fulfillment in Jesus. Here it is God who lays his hand on Jesus, God who lays your sins upon Jesus, and who banishes Jesus from his presence. Your sin was laid on Jesus so he could deal with it on your behalf. And, praise God, he did! What does God do with your sin? Everything necessary to reconcile you to himself and everything necessary to give you confident comfort today and every day.

By the Skin of My Teeth
September 11, 2016

William Shakespeare wrote some pretty mean plays and poetry in his day. Along the way he inadvertently helped form the English language, coining hundreds of words and expressions that have entered into common parlance. Second only to Shakespeare in this regard is the Bible, and especially the King James Version. My love of language, my love of words, and my love of the Bible beautifully intersect in these expressions, idioms like “By the skin of my teeth.”

The Expression

We use the expression “by the skin of my teeth” as a synonym for “barely” or “narrowly.” It is most commonly used to describe a closely-fought but narrow victory or a close but ultimately harmless encounter with danger. An article in Slate suggests that if Donald Trump wins the presidency, he will do so only by the skin of his teeth, which, they say, “is pretty much the only conceivable way he could best Clinton.” An article in the sports pages of the Toronto Star says that NASCAR driver James Hinchcliffe “won last Saturday night’s race at Texas Motor Speedway by the skin of his teeth.”

The Origin

The phrase is drawn from the King James rendering of Job 19:20: “My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth.” Almost all modern translations maintain the idiom, though “with” has been changed to “by”: “My bones stick to my skin and to my flesh, and I have escaped by the skin of my teeth” (ESV). This expression is a case of an ancient Hebrew idiom that has been transported into English and become commonly known and widely used. Yet no one knows exactly what the idiom means in its source language. Old Testament scholar John Hartley says, “The explanations for the metaphor are multiple and unconvincing. Its meaning eludes us.” The Oxford Dictionary blog provides the most common and compelling explanation when it points out that it probably “refers to the thin porcelain exterior of the tooth (rather than the gums). In other words, Job escaped with his teeth, but just barely. Job is comparing the narrow margin of his escape with the shallow ‘skin’ or porcelain of a tooth: the equivalent, in fact, of a ‘hair’s breadth’.”

The Application

The twentieth chapter of Job finds him replying to his “Job’s friends,” (another common expression, as it happens). His friends have each accused him of sinning, suggesting that his past sins are the cause of his current suffering. But Job knows better. While he does not declare his utter innocence before God, he also knows that his suffering is not God’s punishment for past misdeeds. He maintains his innocence even though his suffering has been deep and dark—so terrible that he has escaped death only by the skin of his teeth. Yet his faith is intact. Just moments later he says,

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me! (Job 19:25-27)

For Job, circumstances would not define him. They would not be the cause of ultimate confidence or despair. Rather, he relied on his knowledge of the character of God and on his existing relationship with God. He knew his God, therefore he knew that God was working good even through the most troubling of circumstances. And this is undoubtedly the foremost application for most of us. Even if we suffer so deeply that we escape with our lives by little more than the skin on our teeth, God remains God and he remains good.

Job’s words served as the basis for Samuel Medley’s great hymn, “I Know That My Redeemer Lives.” My favorite rendition, which we sing often at Grace Fellowship Church, is this one from Redeemer Church of Knoxville.

Job’s words are also prominently and beautifully featured in Handel’s Messiah, as demonstrated here by Sylvia McNair.

Six Reasons Why Adultery Is Very Serious
September 10, 2016

Adultery is a serious matter. At least, it is a serious matter in the mind and heart of the God who created sex and marriage and who put wise boundaries on them both. But why? Why is adultery such a serious matter. Christopher Ash provides six reasons in his book Married for God and I am going to track with him as we go.

Adultery is a turning away from a promise. In the mind of the adulterer, the pursuit of another person is not first a turning away but a turning toward—a turning toward someone who is desirable and lovely. “I deserve him.” “She meets my needs.” “He understands me.” “She does the things my wife won’t.” But at heart, adultery is first and most significantly a turning away. It is a turning away from one to whom promises were made in the presence of witnesses. Most importantly, it is a forsaking of promises made in the presence of God and, in that way, a turning away from God himself.

Adultery leads the adulterer from security to chaos. Because the adulterer has turned away, he or she enters into a life of torn loyalties. “Once the promise is broken, the barrier is breached, the secure wall of marriage is torn down, all hell breaks loose. And an adulterer finds he or she has not after all exchanged one secure place (his marriage) for another secure place (the new home with the new partner). That is the illusion, but the reality is much different. Adulterers soon find they’ve entered a world in which unfaithfulness is the norm—after all, if one set of vows can be broken, why not another?” Even when the adulterer remains loyal to that new partner, there is still the divided life, the divided family, the divided memories. “To the adulterer, the grass seems so much greener the other side of the fence, but it isn’t nearly as green as it looks.” The adulterer’s actions lead away from the security of stability and into disorder.

Adultery is secretive and dishonest. Adultery is inherently secretive, inherently dishonest. It has to be because no one wants to trumpet that they are breaking a promise. Adultery loves the darkness and flees the light and for as long as it can it tries to remain a secret. “Whereas news of a marriage is broadcast by joyful announcement and invitations, news of adultery leaks out by rumor and under pressure.” Ouch. That alone should tell us what is at the heart of adultery, for sin loves to remain in the darkness while righteousness loves the light. Adultery depends upon a dishonest secrecy.

Adultery destroys the adulterer. Adultery does no favors to the adulterer. To the contrary, it undermines and erodes character and integrity. “Like all secret sin, it eats away like some noxious chemical at the integrity of the one who commits it. The moment any of us drive a wedge between what we say we are publicly and what we actually are privately, we injure ourselves at the deepest possible level.” Isn’t that always the way with sin? It promises so much but delivers so little. It promises freedom and delivers captivity. It promises fulfillment and delivers emptiness. Adultery destroys the adulterer even as it promises joy and life.

Adultery damages society. We can widen the scope from the individual to the society around him and see that the damage continues there, too. Adultery does harm to the very fabric of society. “Each act of adultery is like a wrecker’s ball taking a swing at the secure walls of the social fabric of society. It stirs up hatred and enmity. It encourages a culture which reckons marriage boundaries needn’t really be quite so rigid.” We love to think our sins are our own, that they concern only us. But no, our sin goes far beyond ourselves and impacts others. With adultery we see this even in the ways friends or colleagues are uncertain how to speak, how to react when they learn of adultery. We see the damage it does if and when they say “At least he’s happier now.” The adulterer removes one more brick from the foundation of marriage.

Adultery hurts children. Adultery does grievous harm to an innocent party—children. “Because children are right in the thick of it, in the intimacy of the family home broken by cheating on promises, darkened by secrecy and lies, riven with conflict and hatreds.” Children thrive when there is structure, when there is stability, when there is peace and order. Children are harmed when adultery brings chaos and conflict and disunity. Children are innocent parties who are terribly harmed when adultery separates their parents.

In these ways and many more, adultery is a matter of the utmost seriousness. No wonder, then, that the Bible contains such serious, repeated warnings against it: “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; none who touches her will go unpunished” (Proverbs 6:27-29). “He who commits adultery lacks sense; he who does it destroys himself” (Proverbs 6:32). “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Hebrews 13:4).

The Good Work of Bringing Order From Chaos
September 09, 2016

There are many things we do in this world that grow wearisome over the course of a lifetime. Near the top of the heap may just be the constant battle to bring order from chaos. This world and everything in it are constantly drifting toward chaos, maybe even full-out hurtling toward chaos. And a million times in a million ways we take little actions to hold it back, to restore just a modicum of order.

God knows all about order and chaos. Whatever God created in the very first moments of creation was “without form and void” (Genesis 1:2). We may not know all that is caught up in that little phrase, but it is clear that whatever was there was incomplete, unformed. As God began to move in his week of creation, he brought order from that initial disorder. He organized, he formed, he made, he filled. From that unformed substance emerged the beauty, the order, of this world. But it emerged only by his effort, his will, his handiwork.

Then God created people. God created people in his image and assigned them God-like work: They, too, were to bring order from chaos. God created man and placed him in the garden. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). Man was to serve God and to serve like God by tending this garden. This garden was beautiful and perfect, but it, too, needed handiwork. It was, after all, a garden. It was full of plants that would sprout and need to be tended, of hedges that would grow and need to be trimmed. God meant for his people to make this garden a place of obvious and visible order that would stand apart from the world outside the garden. And as man obeyed God’s instruction to spread out over the rest of the earth, he would extend this order outward, through the region, the continent, the world. This was man’s exercise of dominion, his work of subduing the earth and all that is in it.

This work of bringing order from chaos is dignified work. It is God-like work, God-assigned work. Victor Hamilton says it well: “The point is made clear here that physical labor is not a consequence of sin. Work enters the picture before sin does, and if man had never sinned he still would be working. Eden certainly is not a paradise in which man passes his time in idyllic and uninterrupted bliss with absolutely no demands on his daily schedule.” Man was created to work, to work within God’s good creation. And it is not only work that has dignity, but the specific work of bringing order from chaos, of bringing what is unformed into the state of being formed. That work would become even more important as sin entered the world and with it the consequences of sin—the thorns and thistles that would combat (literally) the work of the farmer and combat (figuratively) every other manner of work.

And even today, so much of the work we do in life is of this nature. So much of the work we do in our families, in our homes, in our churches, in our vocations, is the work of bringing order from chaos. And this is good work.

As parents we soon learn that our children come into this world in a state of utter chaos and anarchy, screaming when they want to eat, filling their diapers whenever and wherever they feel the urge. They grow into willful toddlers who want to rule the home, who want to exercise authority over their parents and siblings, who already show startling signs of rebellion against both God and man. Our task is to love them, to teach them, to discipline them, to urge them, to form them. We form them into people of order, of self-control, of self-respect, of selflessness, of godliness. Chaos gives way to order.

As church members we see the Lord save his people and they come into our churches with barely a shred of Christian character. They are addicted to sex or substances, they use their words to harm rather than help, they have only the smallest knowledge of God and his ways. So we disciple them, we teach, reprove, correct, and train them, we display Christ-like love to them, and eventually, inevitably, we see chaos replaced by order. We do this again and again as God saves more and more of his people. Chaos is chased away by order.

As people working in our vocations we do this same kind of work. We sweep and wax the hallways for the thousandth time, we edit the messy manuscripts, we train more inert people to drop 20 pounds and run 5 kilometers, we write traffic tickets for the people who insist on parking in fire lanes, we teach another class of ignorant students, we weed another bed of flowers. It goes on and on, day after day and year after year. But all the while it goes from chaos to order.

And then there are our homes, our homes which in mid-afternoon are clean and orderly and by early evening are little short of a disaster area. We take little actions and big ones: We sweep the floors, we empty the sink to fill the dishwasher, we replace empty lunch bags with full ones, we replenish the toilet paper, we shovel the toys back into their bins and boxes. Messiness departs and order arrives for another day or another hour.

This is so much of our work as long as we are here—the work of bringing order from the chaos that is always so close at hand. This work is good. It may be frustrating, repetitive, endless. But it is good. This work is good enough for God and good enough for God to assign to the very crown of his creation. It is certainly good enough for the likes of you and me.

Is It Right Deliberately Not To Have Children
September 07, 2016

Here’s a question I’ve heard a number of times in a number of different contexts: Is it okay deliberately not to have children? Is it okay for a married couple to deliberately determine that they will not at least attempt to have biological children? My immediate response has always been no, it is not okay. But I have never put a lot of thought into why or whether this response is correct. Thankfully, I got an assist from Christopher Ash in his book Married for God. He teaches, as Christians have always done, that one of the foremost purposes of marriage is procreation, then provides his answer to the common question.

While he admits that some Christians align a little differently on the subject, he says, “I think the deliberate choice not to have children is nearly always wrong.” While non-Christians tend to make the argument based on their rights—“I have the right not to have children!”—he points out that Christians tend to frame it in terms of “serving God rather than having children.” But this is a false choice and one God does not call us to make. “Having children and giving years of life to costly prayerful nurture of them is precisely the distinctive means by which most married people do serve God. We do not serve God rather than having children; we serve God by having children.

There is a temptation to downplay the significance of parenthood when compared to the significance of, for example, foreign missions in the world’s outermost or most dangerous reaches—anyone can have kids but not everyone is willing to go to those distant places. Or perhaps we can downplay parenting when comparing it to a great career in an important field—law, medicine, politics. But, he says, “Never despise the significance of parenthood in the service of God! For many, especially (dare I say it?) mothers, what they do as parents will prove more significant in eternity than the most glittering career in the eyes of the world. This is a question of lining up our values with God’s values.”

Here is what all Christians need to ask: “Do we agree with the Bible and face children with arms open in gratitude for the blessing of God, or do we turn our face away from children and count as a curse what God calls a blessing?” There is the reality that “a child may be an inconvenient blessing. A child will usually be an expensive blessing. A child may and often will be a blessing that takes us well outside our comfort zones and into the arms of grace. A child is usually a blessing that will be accompanied by sleepless nights and many tears. But he or she is a blessing, and we must not forget this. Parents struggling with a demanding or wayward child need to remember to thank God for that son or daughter, even as they pray urgently for grace to care for them faithfully.”

But why? Why are children such a blessing? One unique blessing is that, “they force us to welcome into our circle strangers we have not chosen. Husband and wife have chosen one another. But, however much they may have wanted a baby, they did not choose this baby with these particular characteristics! This baby comes into the family circle as a stranger, to be welcomed whatever his or her character and future. And therefore in parenting we learn to welcome the stranger, the one chosen by God for us to love. And we learn to love these children out of love for the God who has entrusted them to us.” While we may choose to have a child, ultimately conception, birth, and the unique characteristics of a particular child are exclusively in the hands of God. As parents, we have the challenge and the honor of loving the little stranger God has given us, of extending godly hospitality to him or her. “Someone has commented that the only home it is safe to be born into is a hospitable home that welcomes outsiders into its circle. Children challenge our self-centeredness and do us good.”

This is not the only reason not to deliberately avoid having children. A simple, honest reading of the Bible will show how God so commonly associates children with blessing and childlessness with curses or punishment (e.g. Psalm 127:3-5). That same reading will show that children are fundamental to God’s mandate to human beings that we “be fruitful and multiply” so we can “fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). It will show that of all God has created, none has greater significance or worth than human beings (Genesis 1:26-27). Together they build a solid case that those who marry ought to attempt to fulfill all of God’s purposes for marriage. That includes having children.

Are there exceptions? Certainly there may be medical exceptions that would need to be approached carefully and prayerfully, yet also confidently, knowing that our status with God is not dependent upon our ability to bear children. As Ash puts it, “there may … be rare exceptions on medical grounds, where a couple would welcome children if they could, but recognize that it would be irresponsible to do so.”

Finally, here is how Ash concludes his case: “It seems to me that the lifestyle choice of never having children is generally not open to a Christian couple.” Having read his case, and having considered it, I think I’m largely in agreement.

On this subject, consider reading Al Mohler on Deliberate Childlessness: Moral Rebellion With a New Face (“Christians must recognize that this rebellion against parenthood represents nothing less than an absolute revolt against God’s design”) and Russell Moore on Should We Stop Having Children to Save the Earth? (“When we welcome children among us, we are reminded that we are not self-creating gods, and that our generation is not the only one that matters.”). For a slightly different perspective, consider reading John Piper on Is It Okay to Not Have Children for the Sake of Ministry? (“I don’t think the Bible mandates having children” but “you should consider that, though it may be not multiplied in effectiveness on the same pattern, your ministry could be multiplied in effectiveness in a different way if you were to have children.”).

Simple Ways to Spark a Lukewarm Devotional Life
September 06, 2016

It happens to all of us at one time or another. There are times when we wake up eager to get into God’s Word, when our times in the Bible are an absolute joy and thrill. We hope, we wish, we pray that these times will never end. But they do. At times we wake up with no desire to open the Word. We find to our sorrow that the joy and thrill have given way to cold duty. I know this all too well. With September here and fall and winter laid out before us, perhaps this is the time to spark that lukewarm devotional life. Here are a few suggestions.

Ditch Your Plan

Bible-reading plans can be a tremendous aid in telling us what to read each day and in keeping us on track in actually reading it. The desire to finish the plan combined with the sense of personal failure that comes with abandoning it can be enough to keep us going. Yet often we fall behind in those plans and the discouragement of being a day, then a week, then a month behind paralyzes us into inaction. If that’s the case for you, why don’t you ditch your plan? Ditch it without shame, without that sense of failure, and do something different instead. Why not begin to read a Psalm a day, or a chapter of one of the gospels? Find a list of 100 key Scripture passages and focus on them. Pick a short book like Colossians or Titus and read it every day for a month. What and how much you read matters a lot less than the simple fact that you read something and meditate on it.

Start a Plan

Sometimes a plan is the problem and sometimes a plan is the solution. If your reading is infrequent and unstructured, why don’t you think about finding and following a plan? While we typically think of annual plans that begin in January, there are also great plans that run for weeks or months. A three- or four-month plan may be just the thing to get you through to the end of the year. If Bible-reading is an especially big struggle for you, try a 5-day-per-week plan that allows you a couple of catch-up days each week. Bible.com can get you started with a whole list of options. The ReadingPlan app has been my companion all year long and I’ve grown to love it!

Change the Medium

Sometimes a change of medium is in order. If you have been struggling to pick up the Bible and read it each day, why don’t you think about switching to an audio Bible. Bible.com will read you any passage you want in a variety of translations. ESVbible.org and the ESV app will read it for you as well. Get some headphones and go for a walk while you listen. On the other hand, if you have been listening and struggling to keep up, maybe you should switch back to reading. If you’ve been struggling to read your printed Bible, maybe try an app to see if that sparks some more interest: Logos handles daily reading beautifully, as do apps like Olive Tree and Accordance. If your app has made reading difficult, go back to the printed Bible, perhaps grabbing a reader’s edition that focuses on making the Bible look simple and typographically beautiful.

Get in Community

The phenomenon of daily, private devotions is relatively new to church history and there is something to be said for reading the Bible in community, perhaps as a married couple or as a group of friends. If you are struggling to read the Bible, why not allow yourself to feed off the habits and self-discipline of someone else? Ask your husband or wife if you can join in their devotions or ask your friends if you can get together with them to read and to pray. The biblical mandate is not to have a daily, personal quiet time, but to be steadily, consistently taking in the Word.

Find a Devotional

If getting in community won’t work or isn’t of interest, why don’t you consider allowing your devotions to be guided by a trusted daily devotional? Spurgeon’s Morning & Evening is a classic that just never grows old. You can find other great devotionals by Paul Tripp, John Piper, Tim Keller, R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Randy Alcorn, and a host of others. Just be sure that the devotionals are focused on the Word of God and that you don’t rush over the Scripture readings. See how these authors love and trust God’s Word and allow that to feed your soul and elevate your enthusiasm.

Read a Good Book

One great way to spark greater interest in personal devotions is to read a good book on the spiritual disciplines: Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life is a classic that will gently show you the joy and necessity of being disciplined in your pursuit of God and godliness. David Mathis’s Habits of Grace is another excellent choice that focuses on the importance of developing good habits in reading the Word, praying, and participating in Christian fellowship. Nancy Leigh DeMoss’ A Place of Quiet Rest is a good pick that is geared specifically for women.

Read & Pray

I leave this one for last even though it is of utmost importance. When your devotional life has grown cold you can do nothing better than pushing through it by not allowing yourself to stop. Reading and praying have their own way of sparking greater joy in reading and praying. Don’t allow your lack of interest to keep you from doing what you know is so good for your soul. Read and pray and trust that the warm desire will return.