Sunday, November 26, 2006

Teaching young children to listen to sermons

I've passed Cotton Mather's list of a Father's Resolutions around for years, and still find fresh ways to apply its principles with my children.

The latest example is teaching my older three children (8,7,4) to listen to the Sunday sermon. Cotton Mather says to "single out some Scriptural sentences of the greatest importance...They shall quickly get those golden sayings by heart, and be rewarded with silver or gold, or some good thing, when they do it." Here's how I apply this for a sermon.

Read to them on Saturday night the passage to be preached and single out some key portion telling them to listen for what the pastor says about that during the sermon, and that if they can correctly answer a simple question I will direct to them at Sunday evening family worship they will be rewarded with a special snack at dessert time (food is a great motivator for my kiddos).

For instance, today the pastor preached on Col 1:12, "giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light." Last night I asked them to listen for "qualify" and be prepared to tell me what that word means and how we are qualified. Tonight in family worship I asked each of my older children a question appropriate for their age. For my 4-year old it was a simple Yes or No question. For my 7 year old it was to define qualify. For my almost 9-year old it was to explain how we as sinners can be qualified to receive such an inheritance.

They each earned a special snack and I gained the satisfaction of knowing that even little children can listen profitably to a sermon if the parents are willing to do a little preparation and follow-up work.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Strength for the narrow, hard way

Our Lord characterizes the life his followers are on as a narrow path; we are to avoid the wide and easy way that leads to destruction. He plainly tells us that this way is going to be hard, but it alone leads to life (Matthew 7:13-end).

But doesn't he tell us just a little later that his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:30)? How do we reconcile this?

That was answered for me in the sermon last week. Preaching on Colossians 1:11, we learned that God strengthens us for all endurance and patience with joy. Like someone who is carrying a heavy load successfully, God's power enables us to abide under difficult circumstances and strengthens us to patiently deal with difficult people.

The power of God that conquered our sinful soul is available to us in our life of faith as we journey down a narrow and hard way. But remember, few are those that know this way.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Crowding out God with the things of God

We all know busyness. As more things are tacked onto the to-do list (especially this time of year), we realize we're no longer focused on Jesus. Ironically, time with God can be easily substituted by time with church work. We rush through our personal devotion so we can work on our next lesson; we skimp on prayer because our time was spent practicing a musical piece for Lord's Day worship.

B.B. Warfield's address The Religious Life of Theological Students is a helpful reminder of the danger and privilege of routinely handling divine things.

He asks, "are you, by this constant contact with divine things, growing in holiness, becoming every day more and more men of God? If not, you are hardening! If you do not find Christ in the conference room [we could easily substitute "private worship"] it is because you do not take him there with you. If after an ordinary day's work you are too weary to close the day with common prayer, it is because the impulse to prayer is weak in your heart. If there is no fire in the pulpit it falls to you to kindle it in the pews. No man can fail to meet with God in the sanctuary if he takes God there with him. How easy it is to roll the blame of our cold hearts over upon the shoulders of our religious leaders!"

"Do you prosecute your daily tasks as students of theology as "religious exercises"? If you do not, look to yourselves: it is surely not all right with the spiritual condition of that man who can busy himself daily with divine things, with a cold and impassive heart."

Friday, November 17, 2006

Do the work of an evangelist

On my brief trip home to South Carolina this week I was able to share the gospel with someone very dear to me. I've been asking God to make me an evangelist; here are two principles that have come to mind, I believe, as a result of those prayers.

1. Be prepared for rejection (persecution is normal for Christians) but don't underestimate what God may do when the gospel is spoken.

2. Hold together both a love for the person and a love for Christ. Since Heaven and Hell are realities, speaking the gospel to an unbeliever shows true love for them. Also, speaking the gospel is an act of love to Christ because it spreads His glory and increases his fame.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Changing Gods

Why did the English convert to Christianity but not the Japanese (at least, not yet significantly)? Why did African slaves exchange ancestral deities for the Triune God but the Navajo people have not? God's providence in this area is mysterious, but Slave Religion sheds light on the intriguing history of the transformation of the African religions into evangelical Christianity.

It's stunning to consider how thoroughly African religions were abandoned once slaves entered America, but what makes this story really interesting is how God brought the gospel to an enslaved people despite the wicked efforts of many white Christians (who couldn't envision a life without slaves) and many abolitionists (who neglected evangelizing the blacks). Small numbers of missionaries played a significant part, but so did other providential factors such as forced integration with white families and the absence of a continuing diaspora. Within a few generations the hold of traditional African religion was severely weakened in America and mass conversion ensued. To generalize, a whole people group changed their God!

This book (first published 25 years ago, but lately updated) strengthens my hope that heady days of evangelization still lay ahead. No people group is "closed" or too hard to reach with the gospel. As time ticks on more and more amazing histories of God's redemptive providence with whole people groups will be recorded. Let the nations be glad!

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Sorry for the lack of posts here recently. As I transition into active service as a church elder again it's been a challenge to faithfully maintain my other vows (marriage vows, children's baptismal vows, promises to friends and family, and oath of office) and also not lose focus on my personal walk with Jesus. The blog and a couple other things had to be curtailed.

I've been traveling some recently and was able to do some good reading and helpful listening. Here are the general topics: religion of the African slaves and the mass conversion of this people group to Christianity, neighborhood evangelism and persecution, the spiritual life of theological students, and the nature of personal sacrifice.

I'd like to come back and post more specifically on some of this material soon. If any of the topics especially interest you, let me know and that'll encourage me to get started.