Parent Devotional

//Parent Devotional
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Puritan Activities to Encourage Spiritual Growth

At this time of year, it is appropriate to remember our spiritual (and perhaps physical) forefathers.  New England’s first white settlers were those who separated from the worldy Church of England (Separatists).  These “Pilgrims” landed in 1620.  Another group tried to purify the worldy Church of England (Puritans).  But a mere ten years later, the colony was infused with a great migration of Puritans who had finally given up on the Church of England.  Two thousand Puritans emigrated in 1630 alone.  Both of these groups brought with them a rich emphasis on the daily walk of the believer. We can do well to imitate them.  The following notes are from Christian History Magazine, Issue 41,

The Puritans sought a living relationship with Jesus Christ through public worship and private “devotions.”  Private devotions took place in secret exercises, private conferences, family devotions, and private meetings.

“Secret” or “closet” exercises. Alone, the Puritans meditated and prayed just before sleep at night, upon rising in the morning and on Saturday in preparation for Sunday.  At night they would review their day’s behavior, repent of sin, and give thanks for the blessings. In addition, there were special sessions of self-examination on a birthday, New Year’s day or some remarkable act of Providence.

Private conference.  Believers were specifically instructed to seek out “much conference, especially with Ministers and other experienced Christians.”  These conferences were designed to solve problems and strengthen individuals and families in grace.

Family devotions.  The Puritans rightly viewed the family as a “little church,” so family devotions were essential.  “Families are the nurseries for church and commonwealth; ruin families and ruin all.”  This third private exercise ideally occurred in the morning before work, before meals and in the evening.  The Bible was read chapter by chapter, a psalm was sung and prayers (using a devotional) were offered up.

Neighborhood prayer meeting.  Congregations formed groups for women, young men, girls, tradesmen, and ministers.  Meetings were held in homes weekly or biweekly.  “We pray, and sing, and repeat sermons, and confer together about the things of God,” explained John Eliot, a founding pastor and missionary to the Indians.

In addition to these exercises, the Puritans were known to keep track of their spiritual state and experiences through journals.  New Englanders were also highly literate and considered reading a means of grace.  Religious publications – sermons, tracts, catechisms, and devotional manuals–were best sellers.

What strikes me almost 400 years later is how little has changed.  While technology has changed our physical life, the means of nourishing our spiritual life remain the same.  What this article does so well is specify those means so clearly.  Make use of these means of building up your own soul and the soul of those around you that were used by the founders of our country.

 

Stability in Times of Uncertainty

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and lifted up. Isaiah 6:1

He shall be called… Everlasting Father. Isaiah 9:6

We crave stability.

In the 1940’s, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected to an unprecedented third and fourth term as a U.S. president. George Washington had set the unwritten precedent that a president should serve only two terms.

How was the precedent of 150 years so easily overturned?

America was traversing the uncertainty of the Great Depression and World War II.  When all around is uncertain, it was comforting to look to the stability of our leaders. The comfort of stability was greater than precedent.

We want leaders we can have confidence in.

Isaiah must have deeply felt this uncertainty when he learned that Uzziah died. The king, whose name means the Lord is my strength, had reigned for 52 years. Under him, Israel had regained some of its former prosperity, rebuilt and rearmored its military.

But now he was gone. And the future was cloudy.

It was during that time of uncertainty that God gave Isaiah a vision of Jesus (Isaiah 6:1, John 12:41) seated on the throne, majestic, powerful, and surrounded with praise.

Jesus had been on the throne all the time but now Isaiah saw it.

When we face times of uncertainty, we need to remember that though we crave stable, trustworthy human leaders – all will fail. Ultimately, Jesus is that Fatherly leader we crave. This comforting role of Jesus is what Isaiah refers to when he says the titles of the Messiah will be: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Jesus is the Everlasting Father, a much better FDR and Uzziah put together.

And just as we crave stable leadership, so do our children. As our children navigate their uncertain world, rocked by changes, we have a high calling to be the steady rock. But let us remember we are merely a shadow of the true leader. Jesus is the one who brings true stability.

Let this calling drive us to our knees. And let us also make sure we point our children to the Everlasting Father – the all wise king on the throne – Jesus.

Heavenly Father, thank you for Jesus who is a personal, strong and steady ruler in these days of uncertainty. Help me to reflect this emotional and spiritual stability to my children as his undershepherd.

Seven Questions to Assess If Your Anger is Righteous

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David Powlison on Seven Questions to Ask if Your Anger is Righteous

1. Do you get angry about the right things?
2. Do you express your anger in the right way?
3. How long does your anger last?
4. How controlled is your anger?
5. What motivates your anger?
6. Is your anger “primed and ready” to respond to another person’s habitual sins?
7. What is the effect of your anger?

From “Anger Part 1: Understanding Anger,” Journal of Biblical Counseling, 1995

This is really helpful for those who defend their anger as righteous. Scripture does leave a category for righteous anger. And at times, anger can be our helper. However, in the majority of cases, human anger has a sinful element to it. These seven questions help us to discern any sin.

Do You Feel the Sacrifice of the Incarnation?

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

I dont know about you but I cannot grasp that grace.

Several years ago, I came across a story in National Geographic (June 2003) that has stayed with me. In it, I begin to feel the incarnation in a minuscule way. Perhaps it will affect you too.

It is a story about people like Dinesh Parmar. One of 10,000 Bhangis in Ahmadabad, Parmar earns money by manually cleaning latrines, sewers, and gutters and by removing dead animals from the streets. He is a Bhangi, a member of the Untouchable caste.

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In India there are 5 castes- levels of grouping. The ranks in Hindu society come from a legend in which the main groups, or varnas, emerge from a primordial being. From the mouth came the Brahmans-the priests and teachers.  From the arms came the Ksahtriyas-the rulers and soldiers. From the thighs come the Vaisyas-the merchants and traders. From the feet come the Sudras–laborers. Each varna in turn contains hundreds of hereditary castes and subcastes with their own pecking order. A fifth group describes the people who areachuta. The primordial being does not claim them.

The lowest caste is called the untouchables. They do all the dirty work that no else wants to do. Deal with dead bodies. Much of the manual labor. Within each caste there are subcastes. Within the untouchable caste the lowest subcaste is called a Bhangi.

Let me describe a days work for Parmar. He removes the manhole cover. Cockroaches scurried from the darkness as the stench below filled the street. Parmar hesitated for only an instant, then dropped into the hole- with no gloves, no gas mask. His body hidden inside, he methodically lifted bucket after bucket of excrement over his head.

Off to the next job – He led the way to a nearby lane. He climbed into several more manholes to scoop out clots of filth and sludge.

My Reaction

Do you recoil at that story and that picture?  I do. Do you love this man enough to leave your country, your wealth, your rights as a US Citizen, your future opportunities,  to enter his world? To become a Bhangi, to earn money in this way, to so humble yourself and humiliate yourself? To save a few? Oh by the way, the majority aren’t going to appreciate the sacrifice you have made. They are going to reject you and kill you.

I can’t. The gap is too wide. The sacrifice is too much. But Jesus did this and more.

Jesus loved us so much that he humbled himself, and came and entered our world of filth and stench. He became the lowest of the low.

That is the grace of Jesus. This is the sacrifice of the Incarnation.

 

Needs and Personal Calling

Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else-to the nearby villages-so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” (Mark 1:37-38)

I believe there are two types of Christians. Some, though they have experienced God’s generosity to them in Christ, still treat others with a miserly attitude. They are stingy with their time, talents and treasure. They have no problem drawing boundary lines and keeping others out.

But there is another group that understands the generosity of God to them and desires to be channels of generosity and grace to others. And because they are generous with their time, talent and treasure, they need to be reminded of another principle of Scripture. The principle?

A need does not necessarily constitute a call of God.

As we seek to discern what the Lord is calling us to do with our lives, the principle must be kept in mind. A need may constitute a personal call. Or it may not.

For example, the apostles were made aware of the problem of overlooked Grecian widows (Acts 6).  They saw that the problem was addressed even while insisting that it would not be right for them to neglect prayer and the ministry of the word. In other words, while overseeing the food distribution of the widows was a noble task and a need, they would actually be neglecting God’s call on their life if they were to take it on.

Similarly, Jesus made a priority decision after spending time in prayer. While Peter saw the crowd and his growing popularity—“Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” (Mark 1:37-38) Prayer separated the important from the urgent, the obvious from the hidden.

Perhaps the most obvious time the Spirit overrode a need and a desire is when the Spirit would not let Paul preach in Ephesus or any of Asia Minor but sent him over to Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens and Corinth.

Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. Acts 16:6-10

Though he desired to go to the largest city in the region, Ephesus, for some reason the Spirit of God sent him further away.

What is the application for us as we seek to discern the mind of the Lord for our own lives?

We will be presented with a myriad of opportunities and needs. In fact, we should not hide from those needs but seek to hear them out. For some we may only be called to pray. For others, we may be called to engage.

Those who are generous with their time and talent in advancing the kingdom must seek God for their own call in fulfilling a need. While we can pray for many needs and should never turn a cold shoulder when presented with a need, we must make sure that serving does not cause us to give up a greater calling from God.

A need does not necessarily constitute a call of God. It may or it may not.

As we seek to discern what the Lord is calling us to do with our lives, let us keep this principle in mind.

Are You Praying Together Regularly? – Repost

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For some reason, church-going couples have compartmentalized their religious life and their marriage life. The two may never meet. So if we are having marriage conflicts, often the last thought is, “Have we prayed about it together?”

But praying together is in fact a balm for many of our problems and an inoculation for many others. Many of the problems we are having may be the result of neglecting prayer together. Besides the effect on God, praying together has the mystical effect of binding hearts together. Something happens when two individuals go to the throne of grace together.

How to start? Be careful lest you become overly ambitious. Five minutes of regular prayer beats 30 minutes that starts and then stops. Ideally, prayer should be initiated by the priest of the household, the man. But there is nothing wrong with a wife’s gentle prodding, “Can we take a couple of minutes and pray together?”

How to pray? Let’s be careful here. It is easy to preach while praying. “Lord, help my husband become the man he should be,” is more preaching than praying. The prayers must be a real beseeching of God and not preaching to God or the other person in the form of prayer. “O God, make my husband/wife the person he/she should be,” is not an acceptable prayer to pray together.

Instead the focus of our prayer should be thanksgiving to the Lord, personal confession (again, don’t confess sin for the both of you), personal prayer for yourself and prayer for the both of you as you face this struggle together. Let’s look at each of these.

Thanksgiving: Prayer, like Paul’s prayers, should start out with thanksgiving. When Paul mentioned his prayers in his letters, they started with thanksgiving. The recipient of the letter, who was about to be corrected by Paul, saw in writing Paul’s genuinely thankful heart. There is something heart-changing in us about lifting prayers of thanksgiving to God for a person who is causing us pain. There is always something for which you can give thanks for them.

Personal Confession: Since you are holding yourself to a standard of perfection no matter what the other person does, there is probably sin that you can confess and renounce. Genuine confession in front of the other person is powerful. Do not confess the other parties’ sins or your mutual sins unless there has been previous agreement. Prayer is sacred communion with God and should be directed on gaining ground with him not with the other party.

Personal Supplication: Confession of your own failures leads naturally into prayer for personal transformation. There is a natural flow to asking God to ease the consequences of your sin. Again, the focus of prayer is upon changing you.

Mutual Supplication: Lastly, this is a time there can be prayer for the family decisions that have to be made that are causing disagreement. There can be genuine asking wisdom that God could show you what to do.  It is always good to echo Jesus’ high priestly prayer for protection from Satan, unity and holiness by the word (See John 17). And if we pray then we need to expect God to answer. Part of the expectation of faith filled prayer is listening to the Spirit and looking for answers.

Why don’t you pray together? Too old? It is never too old to do what is right. Too busy? You’re right you are too busy. He won’t take the lead? Nothing wrong with a wife’s gentle and humble suggestion. We dont know how. Ask another couple to mentor you.

Let’s keep our families well nurtured by praying in the Spirit on all occasions, especially as husband and wife.

Pray in the Spirit on all occasions, especially as husband and wife.

A Biblical Prayer – Greater Love and Greater Discernment

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Phil 1:9

How shall we pray for our children and ourselves?

Paul tells the Philippian church that he is praying for them their love will increase. Sin is naturally selfish, focusing our attention on self and making us the center of our universe. The exact opposite of that is love for God and love for our neighbor (Matthew 22:37-39). That amount of love is not static, it can grow and abound.

But many things are wrongly called love, and so Paul prays that this love will grow in knowledge and discernment so that they can approve (or discern) what is excellent (or best).

Paul’s prayer for his children and our prayer for children is that they will grow in knowledge and discernment about what is the best choice. The very nature of children is that they do not have knowledge and discernment of the world. As toddlers they cannot discern between a hot stove and a cold stove. Maturity for a child is growing in knowledge and discernment so that they do not run into the road or put dirt in their mouth. Similarly, spiritual maturity is also growing in knowledge and discernment about how God sees the world: Where is there spiritual safety and spiritual danger?

The reason Paul prays for that discernment is so that they will choose what is excellent or best. All of us chose what we think is best at that moment. The mouse thinks the cheese is excellent until the bar falls; the fish thinks the worm is best until the hook grabs him. Paul is praying that they will choose what is really best, God’s best in the many choices we have before us each day.

The pursuit of excellence does not turn on transparent distinctions between right and wrong. It turns, rather, on delicate choices that reflect one’s entire value system, one’s entire set of priorities, one’s heart and mind. D. A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, p. 128

This is what we want for our children: a heart that loves God and others, filled with knowledge and discernment, so that they are making God-glorifying, good choices. Paul wants and we want their lives full of the fruits of righteousness.

Bottom line – As parents, we can often focus on behavior. Paul focuses on abounding love for God and man, knowledgeable and discerning love that makes good choices. Why? So that they can live a happy life? No, so that they can be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.

Harming Themselves to Their Own Shame

Are they not harming themselves, to their own shame? Jeremiah 7:19

Are unbelievers victims of sin and satan? Or are they rebels following their own selfish way? The Bible teaches both.  Jeremiah 7:19 says they harm themselves, but that harm comes from their own shameful activities and attitudes. How eloquently stated!

On the one hand, unbelievers who sin do harm themselves. Ideas have consequences. And bad ideas have bad consequences. By believing untruths about God and the way the world works. many unbelievers have brought harm upon themselves. God is not mocked, a man reaps what he sows (Galatians 6:7). Men and women have an enemy who comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). Jesus offers rest to any who are weary of satan’s buffetings.

On the other hand, this harm they bring upon themselves also brings shame. Shame only comes to one who is guilty of doing something wrong. The Bible affirms that men and women are not just victims, but guilty participants in sin. They have willfully chosen to go their own way and instead of God’s way. On the judgment day, Jesus will not condemn innocent victims. He will judge guilty rebels.

How do you look at unbelievers? How do our children? Do you see victims or rebels? Can you see both at the same time?

Father, give eyes to see the real harm that has come upon others. Make me as compassionate as you. Father also give me eyes to see the depth of sin of the human heart. Help me see the rebel’s true heart.

When Hormones Get The Best of Us

The following is a post my daughter, Rebekah Bettis, wrote for her blog. I liked it so much I asked her if I could post it on my blog. Read it closely.  Is enjoy the right word? – Chap

Every woman knows that uncontrollable flood of hormonal emotions.  Everyone in the house scrambles to get out of your way as you let loose.  One moment you’re slamming cupboard doors in frustration, and the next you are curled on the couch sobbing about all your failures. No one understands you and everything and everyone is ruining your life!
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I understand, it’s rough being a lady. But its also very difficult for everyone else living with you.  Growing up in a family of three females and three males, I get the dynamics. Trust me, I write this from experience.

The uncontrollable-hormone-induced emotions strikes all of us females.  Some react very strongly, others not quite as extreme.  Some women take medication, other don’t. Its obviously a physical problem, so we can’t control it, right?

Wrong.

As a Christian, I’ve read Galatians 5:22-23 numerous times.  The fruit of the Spirit it love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  But of course this only applies to everything BUT my hormonal reactions that are strictly physical and have nothing to do with the things of God.

Ah-HA. Not so fast.

Reading through the Bible, I have found an unmistakable connection between the mind, body, and soul.  God created us as humans with all three of these things, and since the Fall, they all have become corrupt.  Although the gospel redeems us and fills us with the power of the Holy Spirit, we still have a constant fight with our sinful nature and the effects of the Fall on our bodies.  I don’t think anyone can deny the female hormone overload is a product of the Fall, because let me tell you, there is no way that my emotional outbursts fit in with God’s original plan for creation.

What’s the big deal? Galatians 5:16-17 makes it clear that we are at war within ourselves between the sinful nature and the Spirit. “So I [Paul] say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.  They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.”

Ladies, we are waging war.  When those emotions overwhelm, there is always a choice.  Will I gratify the cravings of my flesh right now and let my rage and self-pity flow? Or will I take a deep breath, ask the Holy Spirit for his help, and fight my emotions by speaking the truths of scripture to myself? Will I let what I feel control what I think?  Or will I use what I know to change how I feel?

So next time you feel the flood of emotions coming, close the cupboard door quietly, sit on the couch with your Bible in your hand, and ask the Holy Spirit to battle those fleshly emotions with you.

Feeling Distant From God?

Do you feel distant from the Lord Jesus? Guess who moved? Hint: It wasn’t Him.

All of us have times when the Lord seems distant and our relationship seems more rote than exciting. What are we to do?

Here are five Biblical strategies for growing closer to the Lord.

1. Seek him.
Blessed are those who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart. (Psalm 119:2) Anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him (Hebrews 11:6). Somehow we forget that becoming a Christian is not the end of seeking God but just the beginning. If your heart has grown cold, confess that fact to the Lord and tell him you desire to seek to know him more and more. Begin listening for his response to that confession. Plan some different strategies to seek him.

2. Worship him.
Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks (John 4:23). When the Father is worshiped, he shows up. He is seeking worshipers. Individual worship will warm your heart and begin to reestablish that love relationship with the Lord. And the Spirit will show up to bless.

3. Draw near to him.
Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners and purify your hearts you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourself before the Lord, and he will lift you up (James 4:8-10). Ultimately it is sin that separates us from God. Make a fearless moral inventory. Confess and renounce any and all known sin in your life. Ask the Lord to deeply show you any sin you are not seeing.

4. Listen to him.
This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him! (Mark 9:27). The natural (sinful) tendency is to move from relationship to religion. The Lord desires to speak to us through the Holy Spirit through the Word. Everything he wants to say is in the Word. It just needs to be personalized for us. And for that we need to open his word and listen to the Spirit.

5. Withdraw with him.
Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed (Luke 5:16). Take a couple of hours, 1/2 a day or a whole day to pray and practice 1-4 above. We know that marriages benefit from leaving the routine to concentrate on each other. How much more our relationship with our heavenly Father?

Feeling distant from God? It does not have to stay that way. He didn’t move. And he’s waiting for you.

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