Thoughts on Family Worship

I get asked regularly about what we do for “family worship.” Among Christians who love the faith and their kids, family worship becomes a topic of interest. My initial response is always ambivalent, encouraged on the one hand that someone wants to have a family culture that includes the Bible and devotion in the home, and slightly concerned because the common issues that plague “family worship” are considerable. For those considering implementing some version of family worship, here are some remarks that I hope are helpful.

1. Family Worship Isn’t Required by the Bible This might seem impious, but it’s really only impietistic. We simply are not required to have a set, formal, liturgical time of worship as families. I’m glad some people do this and benefit from it, and as far as they do, I’m for it, but no one should feel it is something they ought to do. This is not the same thing as saying parents shouldn’t read the Bible, pray and talk about God with their children. Of course they should. And it’s helpful if this is regular, methodical, and often. But some of the healthiest Christian families I know never had “family worship” formally conducted. They would read and discuss the Bible at meal and other times for particular seasons, sing and pray before going to bed etc, but these things were not done primarily in one sitting, not in what we would typically call family worship. I know there are lazy parents, particularly fathers, who don’t make time to regularly read and teach the Bible to their kids, and I know my point here will be used by them to justify and continue their laziness. This is what gracious biblical standards always do, and in response legalists try to curb sin by adding rules. So no excuses for lazy people, and no excuse for pietists combating laziness with legalism. Continue reading

Knowing God

Apophatic theology is an Eastern Orthodox doctrine that says we know God best by what He is not, that the knowledge of God is best acquired by negation, not by affirmation. Vladimir Lossky: “Proceeding by negations one ascends from the inferior degrees of being to the highest, by progressively setting aside all that can be known, in order to draw near to the Unknown in the darkness of total ignorance. For even as light, and especially abundance of light, renders darkness invisible; even so the knowledge of created things, and especially excess of knowledge, destroys the ignorance which is the only way by knowledge one can attain to God in Himself.” Robert Letham points out this concept of knowledge is not what we usually understand as knowledge, but total ignorance. It’s a blind mystical ecstasy.

The Apostle Paul puts the knowledge of God in a much more accessible category. How do we get to it? Not by negation, but by possessing God’s own Spirit. “These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:10-11). Like we possess our own spirits and therefore know our own thoughts, so God has given us His Spirit to know His depths. This really throws down false humility, asceticism, negation, and every secret or gnosto-mystical means of getting at God. Go stand on a pole in the desert or hide away in Egypt, you come more easily to the Father. Knowing the mind of God so closely makes us uncomfortable, for what excuse does it leave us? What knowledge or “degree” of relationship is left to attain? How can religious guys pretend to be holier or more steeped in the mysteries of theology if God has simply poured the Spirit out without measure upon the church, even the great unwashed Corinthians? Jesus continues to put the first last and the last first. He invites the meek by way of the Holy Spirit to come directly to Him. “Now we have received not he spirit of the world, bu the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Cor. 2:12).

Viewing the Tilt-a-Whirl

Here is a trailer from the new DVD on sale really cheap:

My blurb: “Here’s to a good start of a new genre: the bookumentary. A narrative walk through N.D. Wilson’s Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl, this film captures the glory and impossibility of the created world, and the gratitude and laughter that we should respond with–all in under an hour. The scope of the spoken world is obviously enormous so anticipate quick sketches and fat brush strokes, “important” philosophers accounted for and swept aside, and a ride that feels a bit like the name. Get ready to tilt and whirl.”

Butterfly Mothers

A friend recently told me a story of someone she knows who went into the ministry recently, directing a hopping children’s program at a local church. Lots of responsibility, long hours and, it appears, lots of impact. The trouble she pointed out is that this woman’s husband has been left in need and her own children signed in to daycare or daddy daycare.

It occurred to me how ironic it was that my friend who herself left a rising career herself to be with and have more children is thought of as the one lacking impact, whereas the lady who has virtually abandoned her husband and children, at least in the hours of need, is out there “making a difference.” This is not to say that a mother’s place is in the home, but when her priority is there, when she ministers to those who desperately need her, the impact is enormous.

The butterfly effect is when an unknowing Monarch flaps his wings in remote African Rain forest and sets off a series of events that becomes a hurricane on the Gulf Coast. God constantly orchestrates the world this way, doing great things through what seems disconnected and unimportant. Motherhood appears to us as common and inconsequential when it is in fact the most important job in the world. Children of sacrificial and wise mothers will have their own impacts through hundreds of collective years, thousands of relationships, and the countless other generations that come from them. Children of wise and sacrificial mothers rise up and call them blessed.

Nourish Not Perish

When a flower is wilting, you don’t pluck it up out of the ground, examine the roots, or leave it on the sidewalk. It needs sunlight, water, good soil, fertilizer and care. So with a hurting marriage. You don’t fix it by tearing it up.

Rescuing Ambition

I’ve been reading and enjoying Dave Harvey’s Rescuing Ambition very much in large part due to the nuanced view of ambition it gives. One entire chapter is titled Ambition’s Contentment, describing the patience and wisdom that go along with godly ambition. Another chapter is dedicated to ambition for the church, and not just the church in general or the heavenly church where no one ever offends you, but the lowly local one where we’re called to belong.

The book is about ambition for everyone, and it really ought to be. Not everyone is called into leadership (or else who would follow?), but everyone is called to pursue excellence in everything. Everyone will have some opportunity for leadership in the informal sense since everyone talks to others, is called to friendship, and has opportunities however small for influence.

Harvey relates one story particularly helpful in a book about ambition. Bill Patton was a pastor involved in leadership training and church planting. When something came up in his family that made it clear he needed to step out of leadership, he actually did so, appointed faithful men to replace him, and get this, “publicly committed himself to be an active and enthusiastic member of the church he’d founded–to support this church through the transition and to serve them long into the future. He also dedicated himself to leading his family with gospel humility” (p. 195). In Bill’s own words:

The gospel answers my questions of identity. It tells me I am Go’s nonobservant, his child, a worshiper, and a functioning member of his church. My identity as a pastor was always a secondarily identity. I have not lost my main identity…. I responded to the call to ministry in order to glory God. Being a pastor was never, rightly, my chief end. I do not presently have opportunity to serve as a pastor, but I do have daily opportunities. to fulfill my main purpose in life. Asking the question, “How do I glorify god now?” wonderfully liberates me.

True ambition isn’t selfish ambition, what Thomas Watson called the mother of all schisms. The local church needs leaders and members who are committed to the mission of the gospel, one that goes beyond personal circumstances and hopes. Such commitments enable the biblical qualifications for leadership to be upheld and relieves the pressure that is felt when “indispensable” men become disqualified, the kind that Charles de Gaulle said fill our graveyards.  True ambition has courage and takes risks, but it is also selfless and humble.

God’s Menu

The New Covenant is a time of vivid, concrete spiritual reality, not one of types and shadows. Before the death of Christ, the faithful were like a boy prince, governed by his tutor, waiting for his maturity so he could rule and grow the kingdom. Israel engaged in various training exercises, like fencing classes for the prince, that would prepare them for real battle with real weapons. Well, the people of God have grown up. We might even be in our 20s; we have yet a long way to go, but we have been entrusted with real weapons now, and a couple of them are right here on the table. The Westminster Larger Catechism asks “How do the sacraments become effectual means of salvation?” And it answers “not by any power in themselves, or any virtue derived from the piety or intention of him by whom they are administered, but only by the working of the Holy Ghost, and the blessing of Christ, by whom they are instituted.” What is the work of the Holy Spirit but your faith? By the same faith God accomplishes our salvation whether it be by hearing the Word, or at this table having heard it, eating and drinking it. Bread and wine are the food of conquering kings as Abraham received from Melchizedek. The minor prophet Zechariah prophesied of the coming of Zion’s King, whose coronation we celebrate today on Ascension Sunday, and he said “On that day the LORD their God will save them…for like jewels of a crown they shall shine on his land…. Grain shall make the young men flourish, and new wine the young women” (Zech. 9:16-17). You are the kings and queens, the royal people of God. Here is your bread and wine. We also include grape juice which we know God blesses. We don’t include it because we’re catering to taste preferences or because it doesn’t really matter what we consume. God set the menu, and the time of types and shadows have passed. We do this because it’s not just what we eat and drink, but how. And we don’t want to stumble anyone physically with the wine in the same way we don’t want someone who is allergic to eat the bread. Special bread, special juice, God understands. But if you can drink the wine, drink it. It’s potent and powerful, part of a dangerous gospel that requires us to grow in wisdom. Drink too much of it and it will mock you. Drink it here and in moderation as Christ delivered, and it will grow you up into his image. And if this whole meditation leaves you unsettled, don’t be. Take what you’re ready to take. We are all together working toward maturity.

Covenant with Levi

In covenant theology, the covenant with Adam is called both the covenant of works and the covenant life, by the Westminster Divines for example. Interestingly, Malachi calls the Mosaic law a covenant of life, peace and fear: “…my covenant with Levi may stand, says the LORD of hosts. My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and he feared me. He stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity” (Mal. 2:4-7). Those who call the Mosaic law a republication of the covenant of works usually deny the graciousness of the covenant of works with Adam before the fall. They then deny the gracious aspects of the Mosaic covenant as well. But there is continuity between the covenant with Adam and with Levi (or Levi through Moses). Adam was promised life, and so was Levi. Oddly, where Adam disobeyed, according to Malachi, Levi obeyed. And we know Levi’s obedience wasn’t perfect obedience, that a perfect sacrifice for sin was still required. Apparently Levi feared God by faith and trusted in God to save him.

No Quiet Talk

“[Martin Lloyd-Jones] eschewed the word ‘address’, vilified the term ‘quiet talk’ but believed that the term ‘message’ appropriately describes what the preacher is about. He is a herald bringing a communication from the throne of God which demands a hearing and a response. ‘Scripture has to be fused into a message with point and power’, the sermon must move people, giving them a sense of the glory of God. Thus, it is necessary to bring the message and deliver it in ‘demonstration of the Spirit and of power’.”

–Tony Sargent, The Sacred Anointing, p. 85