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Archive for the ‘Family Religion’ Category

FAMILY CATECHISING.

[From the United Presbyterian Magazine, Scotland, 1851.]

Of all the periods of human life, youth is the most favourable for religious impression. At first the judgment, though weak, is not pre-occupied; the heart, though depraved, is not yet hardened; and the conscience, though evil, is not yet seared as with a hot iron. Then, like the young sapling, the mind will take any bend you are pleased to give it. But when it has long been inured to sin, it becomes stubborn as the sturdy tree that resists our pressure. We are told, on the best authority, it is as unlikely for one to do good who has been accustomed to do evil, as for the Ethiopian to change his skin, or the leopard his spots. Hence it is that so little can be done with the aged, and many think that few are converted after their twentieth year. It is true we must not limit the Holy One of Israel, and we know he can save even at the eleventh hour. But though a man may be born again when he is old, few, we fear, are changed at this time of life, and most of the aged who are coming to the grave like a shock of corn in its season, are those of whom God says, “I remember the kindness of thy youth.”

Since these things are so, can too much attention be paid to the training of the young? And should not every expedient be resorted to for improving the precious season of youth? In what follows, we intend to confine our remarks to one branch of the subject—family catechising. Of the importance of this department of parental duty, we cannot form too high an estimate. A family thus instructed, becomes a little nursery for the church and for heaven. The advantages of the practice have been seen in the lives and in the deaths of multitudes, and yet the day of judgment alone can reveal them fully.

But this practice, so invaluable to the young, has sadly declined in these degenerate days. The time has been, when no head of a family, who pretended to the name of a Christian would have dared to neglect it; but, as with family worship, what was once the rule has, we fear, become the exception. Nay, there is too much reason to doubt, that rare as is the worship of the family, the family catechising is still more rare; and some who observe the former duty have no relish for the latter. The chief cause of this is, no doubt, the decline of vital religion; but there are particular circumstances at the present day, which cannot be held as evincing such a decline, and yet have had their influence in producing the result we are deploring. Since Sabbath-schools have become so numerous, many parents think the work of family catechising is taken out of their hands. Now this is a great mistake. Sabbath-schools are a blessing, and a great blessing, to the country. But they are at the best but a remedy for a prevalent disease, and if every father could, and would, instruct his own household, Sabbath-schools would be quite uncalled for. No Christian parent is at liberty to devolve on a proxy the religious training of his offspring. And what instruction can be compared to that of a father? The school teacher may be very kind, and deeply concerned for the salvation of his pupils. But the child knows that his parent has far more interest in him than any stranger can have; and if the lessons of the school are not seconded by home tuition, they will in general be in vain. The neglect of this duty we believe to be one great reason of a fact which all Christians deplore, that while Sabbath-schools were never more numerous, juvenile wickedness was never more prevalent.

The frequency of preaching on the Sabbath evenings, especially in towns, may be another cause which has led to this evil. These sermons are extensively placarded and earnestly pressed on attention. The names of the preachers and their particular subjects are diligently advertised and intimated from every pulpit, as if it were some performance where men go to be entertained. Parents think they are well employed when they are hearing the word; and, as this is felt to be much easier than doing their more appropriate work at home, it is often preferred. Now, no head of a family should ever think, in ordinary circumstances, of going to these evening discourses. He is the priest in his own household, and his work at home is far more important than hearing the most popular preacher, on the most exciting theme he can bring before them.

The neglect of the good old way has been most disastrous. It is owing to this that such ignorance now prevails among the members of churches, and that the attainments of most professors are so very circumscribed. None who examine candidates for communion, or parents who are seeking baptism to their children, but must be pained at this. Many people can make but little of sermons, as preachers cannot be always dwelling on first principles; and as church examinations, either from the neglect of the pastor, or the pride of the people, are now almost entirely obsolote, unless the examination be practised in the family, ignorance must increase. And is it not owing to the same neglect that the grossest errors and wildest views on religious subjects are so rampant in the present day? Though the age be distinguished for shrewdness and acuteness in detecting flaws in science and literature, what monstrous opinions are entertained on religion!

Now, if in early life a systematic view of Christian doctrine were obtained, and digested and stored in the memory, the analogy of faith would be seen; the bearing of one doctrine on another would be apparent, and the pernicious dogmas, which gain assent so easily, would be at once rejected. In times of change like the present, when a respect for all that is sacred is sneered at by many as weakness and superstition, when the march of intellect, as they call it, is the pretext for so much change, and when all the foundations have gone out of their course, how important for the young especially to be rooted and grounded in the truth, that they may not be the dupes of every impostor, and be tossed about by every wind of doctrine!

In catechising a family, much will depend on the mode of procedure. To be efficient, it must be done frequently, seriously, intelligently, affectionately, attractively, and prayerfully.

It must be done frequently. Not at rare intervals, as before a communion, or when about to ask admission into the church, or when the visit of the pastor is expected. It must be very regular, and often repeated. For many years it was the custom to require an answer to a question every morning, and the greater part of Saturday was devoted to a revisal of the Catechism. But in this age of bustle and business, when even the day of God is encroached on, and there is time for everything but religion, such important seasons may not be convenient. Yet once in the week is surely not too often, and the evening of the Sabbath may be employed by all.

It must be done seriously,—not like some secular exercise, but as a work involving eternal interests. The subjects of examination are all of the most solemn and tremendous moment. And yet how often are the questions repeated with scarcely a solemn sound, and by a thoughtless tongue! Now this is not only hateful to God, but hurtful to the young. On such occasions all levity must be banished from the mind. They must be taught, when examined, that they have now to do with God, and that the place they occupy is like the “holy ground.”

It must be done intelligently; without this it will be labour in vain. Many have the form of sound words to which they can attach no meaning. They can repeat the questions with the greatest accuracy; but if you vary the language and ask what is meant by the thing expressed, there is no reply but the stare of ignorance. In this matter an improvement has taken place in recent editions of the Catechism. But still there is need for more explanation, that milk may be given to babes as well as meat to the stronger man.

It must be done affectionately, in the spirit of the father when he said, “O my son, if thine heart be wise my heart shall rejoice, even mine;” or of the mother who, leaning over the darling of her heart, exclaims, “O my son, and the son of my womb, and the son of my vows, and the son of my prayers.” The young must be drawn with the cords of love as the bands of a man. We cannot compel them to be religious. We may force them to read the Bible, and to repeat the questions, but we cannot compel them to love the Redeemer. In conducting this duty, the father must try to convince his child that he loves him as his own soul, and travails as in birth that Christ may be formed in his heart.

It must be done attractively,—not in a scolding, scowling manner, which would discourage children, and beget an aversion to the exercise; not as a task or piece of drudgery, so many questions inflicted as a kind of punishment. Unless the duty is made a delight, it will be little relished. The pious Philip Henry, as his son tells us, made the work of catechising so delightful to himself and his household, that he would sometimes say, at its close on the Sabbath evening, “Well, if this is not heaven, it must be the gate to it.”

And it must be done prayerfully. The parent who knows anything of true religion, is well aware that all his efforts will be useless without the Spirit of God. He may succeed in imparting theoretical knowledge; his child may be able to answer with promptitude and precision every question he is pleased to put to him; but without the grace of God, it is all like the sounding brass or the tinkling cymbal. The knowledge which is all intellectual may exist in the memory or the head, but it has no communication with the heart. Polish the marble as you please, it may display its spots and its veins, but it is marble still. No father can convert his son. Flesh and blood cannot do this; none but the Father in heaven. While, therefore, the parent questions, he must also pray; and while in the morning he sows the seed, he must look up for the early and the latter rains.

Were the exercise so conducted, might we not expect the most happy results? We know it is corruption and not grace that runs in the blood; and that many a pious father has had a wicked Absalom. But this is the exception and not the rule, and for such exceptions reasons may often be assigned, as in the case of David and Eli. Manasseh had a good father who would take care to instruct him in the things of God; and yet for a while he gave no evidence of profiting from his pious education. But see him caught among the thorns; carried captive to Babylon; lying in the dungeon, and there making supplication to the God of his father. It was his early impressions which were then revived. It was the seed sown into his mind when a child, that then sprung up and produced such a blessed harvest. And such cases are by no means rare. Parents may sometimes think they have laboured in vain. Their instructions may be buried long under the clods of corruption, but their words may be remembered when they are sleeping in the dust, and when their souls are in heaven. They may have occasion to say on hearing of the conversion of their poor prodigal, “It is meet to make merry, and be glad, for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

If a parent, then, is reading these lines, we would say—for your own sake, for your children’s sake, and for the sake of the Lord Jesus, early instruct your offspring in the things of God. If your children perish through neglect of this, how can you meet them in the other world? “O father! O mother!” they might say, “if you had taught me the Catechism, if you had taken pains to instruct me in the things that belong to my peace, I might not have come to this place of torment. You took care, indeed, to cultivate my mind, and refine my manners; you sent me to every school but the school of Christ; you were careful that I should learn everything but the way of salvation. You often examined me on questions of science, but you had no anxiety to know my attainments in religion. You were proud when you saw me excelling others in branches of literature, but you thought no shame though you saw me ignorant of religion as the wild ass’s colt. The things that belonged to my peace you hid from mine eyes, and now I cannot but curse you for ever as the cause of my misery.”

But O, how different the meeting when by instructing your children in religion you have not only kept them from error, but become the means of their eternal salvation! Then how will they hail you, as, under God, the parents not of their first only, but of their second birth! And how transported will you be when called to account for your charge, you can say, Lord, here are we, and the children thou hast given to us—given to us first by nature, and then by grace! Happy family in heaven! Here you enjoyed your domestic gatherings, but they were soon over. But now your Sabbath’s sun never goes down—your meetings never break up! The Catechism is left behind you, and also the Bible, for now you know even as you are known. But being pious and happy in your lives, in your deaths you are not divided; for they who are a family in Christ are for ever with each other and for ever with the Lord!

 

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0_post_card_portraits_-_jrre_unidentified_rev_patonHere’s a selection from the first chapter of one of my all-time favorite books, John G. Paton: Missionary to the New Hebrides.  These two passages are some of the more memorable ones to me, holding out the beautiful example of a New Covenant Abraham, leading his family to the throne of grace and giving a foretaste of heavenly glory.

This book is well worth the reading.  If you don’t read the book, read the first chapter.  But I dare you not to continue reading after that.  Read it to your family on a quiet Lord’s Day afternoon and develop your own memories of hallowing the day with your children.  Oh, and make sure to read the poem at the end …

The book can be accessed online for free with GoogleBooks, and you can obtain it at Reformation Heritage Books.

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Besides his independent choice of a Church for himself, there was one other mark and fruit of his early religious decision, which looks even fairer through all these years. Family Worship had heretofore been held only on Sabbath day in his father’s house; but the young Christian, entering into conference with his sympathising mother, managed to get the household persuaded that there ought to be daily morning and evening prayer and reading of the Bible and holy singing. This the more readily, as he himself agreed to take part regularly in the same and so relieve the old warrior of what might have proved for him too arduous spiritual toils. And so began in his seventeenth year that blessed custom of Family Prayer, morning and evening, which my father practised probably without one single omission till he lay on his deathbed, seventy-seven years of age; when, even to the last day of his life, a portion of Scripture was read, and his voice was heard softly joining in the Psalm, and his lips breathed the morning and evening Prayer,—falling in sweet benediction on the heads of all his children, far away many of them over all the earth, but all meeting him there at the Throne of Grace. None of us can remember that any day ever passed unhallowed thus; no hurry for market, no rush to business, no arrival of friends or guests, no trouble or sorrow, no joy or excitement, ever prevented at least our kneeling around the family altar, while the High Priest led our prayers to God, and offered himself and his children there. And blessed to others, as well as to ourselves, was the light of such example! I have heard that, in long after years, the worst woman in the village of Torthorwald, then leading an immoral life, but since changed by the grace of God, was known to declare, that the only thing that kept her from despair and from the hell of the suicide, was when in the dark winter nights she crept close up underneath my father’s window, and heard him pleading in family worship that God would convert “the sinner from the error of wicked ways and polish him as a jewel for the Redeemer’s crown.” “I felt,” said she, “that I was a burden on that good man’s heart, and I knew that God would not disappoint him. That thought kept me out of Hell, and at last led me to the only Saviour” . . . .

We had, too, special Bible Readings on the Lord’s Day evening,—mother and children and visitors reading in turns, with fresh and interesting question, answer, and exposition, all tending to impress us with the infinite grace of a God of love and mercy in the great gift of His dear Son Jesus, our Saviour. The Shorter Catechism was gone through regularly, each answering the question asked, till the whole had been explained, and its foundation in Scripture shown by the proof-texts adduced. It has been an amazing thing to me, occasionally to meet with men who blamed this “catechizing” for giving them a distaste to religion; every one in all our circle thinks and feels exactly the opposite. It laid the solid rock foundations of our religious life. After-years have given to these questions and their answers a deeper or a modified meaning, but none of us have ever once even dreamed of wishing that we had been otherwise trained. Of course, if the parents are not devout, sincere, and affectionate,—if the whole affair on both sides is taskwork, or worse, hypocritical and false,—results must be very different indeed! Oh, I can remember those happy Sabbath evenings; no blinds drawn, and shutters up, to keep out the sun from us, as some scandalously affirm; but a holy, happy, entirely human day, for a Christian father, mother, and children to spend. How my father would parade across and across our flag-floor, telling over the substance of the day’s sermons to our dear mother, who, because of the great distance and because of her many living “encumbrances,” got very seldom indeed to the church, but gladly embraced every chance, when there was prospect or promise of a “lift ” either way from some friendly gig! How he would entice us to help him to recall some idea or other, rewarding us when we got the length of “taking notes” and reading them over on our return; how he would turn the talk ever so naturally to some Bible story, or some martyr reminiscence, or some happy allusion to the “Pilgrim’s Progress”! And then it was quite a contest, which of us would get reading aloud, while all the rest listened, and father added here and there a happy thought, or illustration, or anecdote. Others must write and say what they will, and as they feel; but so must I. There were eleven of us brought up in a home like that; and never one of the eleven, boy or girl, man or woman, has been heard, or ever will be heard, saying that Sabbath was dull or wearisome for us, or suggesting that we have heard of or seen any way more likely than that for making the Day of the Lord bright and blessed alike for parents and for children. But God help the homes where these things are done by force and not by love! The very discipline through which our father passed us was a kind of religion in itself. If anything really serious required to be punished, he retired first to his closet for prayer, and we boys got to understand that he was laying the whole matter before God; and that was the severest part of the punishment for me to bear! I could have defied any amount of mere penalty, but this spoke to my conscience as a message from God. We loved him all the more, when we saw how much it cost him to punish us; and, in truth, he had never very much of that kind of work to do upon any one of all the eleven—we were ruled by love far more than by fear.

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The following is especially written for young men.  It’s advice I hope to give to my own son when he comes of age.  But of course, there are principles that carry over for females as well.

* * *

1. It is billus-08etter to marry than to burn. If you are not called to be celibate, be honest with yourself (Matt. 19:12, 1 Cor. 7:9). Then make three things your full-time job, in this order. First, become outwardly ready. If you’re miles away from financial readiness, don’t waste time and energy by toying with what you can’t yet have. Yet, don’t wait for a perfect readiness that may never come, or you may tempt yourself. Second, seriously begin finding a suitable partner. Finally, get married as soon as reasonably possible. Don’t prolong things unnecessarily. This is a recipe for trouble.

2. Do not be unequally yoked. This means that you ought to seek a sincere, orthodox Christian, above all (1 Cor. 7:39, 2 Cor. 6:14). Then after this non-negotiable, seek one of relatively the same spiritual maturity, of relatively the same confessional and practical convictions, and of relatively the same outward circumstances – age, appearance, socio-economic background, etc. Race, however, should not be a factor. As a rule, the better the match, the better the marriage. The more mismatched, the more occasions for problems down the road.

3. Keep perspective on attraction. Don’t discount attraction or feel unholy for desiring it – God made it (Gen. 24:16, Prov. 30:18, 19). But don’t let it override your better judgment, as the flesh can make it a snare (Judg. 14:3). Give greater weight to piety than to appearances (1 Sam. 16:7, Prov. 11:22, 31:10-31, 1 Pet. 3:3, 4). Also keep in mind that beauty is somewhat subjective. It is multi-faceted, and some aspects can take time to discover and appreciate. Marriage is but the beginning of a journey in discovering a partner’s beauty – and seeing beyond imperfections. Last, be aware of the influence of our culture’s paradigms on your remaining corruption. It wants to condition your ideals, and you must manfully resist it (Rom. 12:1, 2).

4. Navigate safely to shore. In terms of process, start with friendships in safe contexts. You can always make friends, but you should never break hearts if you can help it. Reserve your affections (as far as possible) for after engagement and your body for after marriage (1 Cor. 6:18, 2 Tim. 2:22).

5. Weigh the whole package. Look at pros and cons as impartially and prayerfully as you can. Be an intelligent reader of providence. Weigh such things as proximity, ‘availability,’ ‘attainability,’ personalities, the interest you sense or don’t sense, the in-law advantages and disadvantages, church situations, the prospect’s outlook on important life-issues, such as family, career, education, etc., and the time investment necessary in working through all this. Remember #1 and that time is ticking.

6. Ask advice and help from your parents and trusted friends – and pray. There is wisdom in a multitude of counselors. They will often give you helpful perspective – and perhaps help you make connections. But don’t ever forget to bring this all before the Lord. All answers are with Him (Jas. 1:5). “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he shall give you the desires of your heart.”

7. Never give your ‘all’ to anyone but Jesus, and love Him above anyone else. He is the best match, and will never disappoint. And remember that the married state is temporary, while heaven is for eternity (1 Cor. 7:29-31).

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http://www.flickr.com/photos/sharkseason/1419160463/in/photostream/lightbox/“Keep your children as long as you can in your own house. Domestic feeling is a sacred tie which should be preserved fresh and strong—as long as possible. Often, mothers lose all their influence over sons by their being sent abroad to school. Have as much of your children’s education, therefore, conducted at home, as is practicable. Be assured that no place is so favorable to the good feelings and morals of the young as the family circle, unless the family be destitute of religion and virtue; and for such I do not now write.

“Boarding schools for girls may be useful—but I would advise you to keep your daughters at home, under your own eye, and when they go to school in the day, let them come home by night. You may possibly find a better school by sending them abroad—but the sacrifice is too great, and the risk of evil habits and evil sentiments is not small. And as to your sons, if they must go abroad, place them in the family of some pious man, and under the maternal care of some pious woman, where they may find a substitute for parental attention. While absent, let them return home as frequently as they can, that what I have called the ‘domestic’ feeling may be preserved. If your sons must be put to a trade, or become clerks in a store or counting-house, be very particular as to the character and conscientious fidelity of their master. It is lamentable to see how youth in these circumstances are neglected; and how they are exposed to temptations from which it is hardly possible they can escape without guilt and contamination.”

– Archibald Alexander (1772-1851)

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I serve in a Presbyterian denomination with congregations generally consisting of first-generation converts to the Reformed faith and their children.  We don’t have swarms of young people, and many of them either leave for ‘greener’ Christian pastures or, sadly, go prodigal.  So retention is a problem, and ‘sustainability’ (to use an overused term) is a regular worry.  Sometimes, it is easy to feel like we’re on the high seas in a leaky rowboat, and the winds are kicking up.

I must confess that I look wistfully at some of those Presbyterian and Reformed congregations that are large, established, and multi-generational.  Without having sold out.  They are not many, of course.  Usually in the present day large equals compromised.  But God has been faithful to some communions.  The ones I know are Dutch Reformed.  They don’t just have Christian but Reformed schools.  That is, teachers have to subscribe to the subordinate standards.  Many of the children usually profess the faith in the congregations where they were baptized.  They then find mates, marry, settle down, bear children and further populate their ranks.  If not in their original congregation, then not far off.  Often in the same denomination.

When I went to seminary, my wife and I attended a Dutch Reformed congregation with 900+ in church attendance.  Both services.  Clockwork regularity.  The back pew, I remember, was more or less dedicated to one particular extended family.  Four generations right there.  And Grandpa usually kept a busy blonde grandchild occupied on his lap.  Or, at least he tried.  Beautiful – but vanishing.

I know, of course, that such congregations have their problems.  There is no ecclesiastical utopia, short of the Church Triumphant.  Also, I know that we must wait on the outpouring of the Spirit.  Only by such heavenly showers will the desert blossom as the rose.  Prayer, therefore, is the order of the day.  But two things right on its heels.  First, shouldn’t we be praying that our churches will stay faithful and become established and multi-generational?  And shouldn’t we wait on the Spirit and use lawful means to reverse the process of desertification?

A few proposals on this last point, in order of importance and clarity.

1. As parents, and especially fathers, we must be intoxicated with God in Christ.  This is a non-negotiable.  If we lose our first love, how shall it become or stay the first love of our children?  If we are Spirit-born and the Spirit blesses our children with the new birth, there will be a principle of spiritual gravitation reinforcing the natural, familial pull.  If God in His providence calls them away from us geographically, parents and children must resign to separate.  At least, then, we are one in the Spirit, and we can do second best with phone and Skype.  But would it not also incline them – all other things being equal – to stay close to home?

2. As parents, and especially fathers, we must win the affections and hearts of our children to us.   So much to say here.  Firm discipline goes without being said.  We will lose their heart if we spare the rod.  But winning them to us and to our God will take much more than enforcing our authority.  If they are going to want to be with family and enjoy it rather than always looking outside the family for their social outlet, then it is going to demand nothing less than a paradigm-shift.  Family time must be carved out and kept sacrosanct.  We must be together.  Dine together.  Read, play, and laugh together.  And of course, worship together.   Parents, and especially fathers, need to create an esprit de corps in their families.  Love, devotion, and the desire to stay together will mean we need to be almost if not altogether clannish.

The strongest families I have ever seen were ones where children really liked being with family.  Not that they didn’t have original sin.  I knew better than that.  But by the grace of God, the parents didn’t make an army, compliant but loveless.  What they made was a team.  A team with a positive brand.  And loyalty sprang from love.

Now please don’t misunderstand.  I am not advocating a kind of family-olatry.  By striving to be tight-knit, I am not calling for families to be islands, cut off from church and society.  Quite the opposite.  The very point of this post is about creating multi-generational churches. I am a churchman and proud of it.  I want my son and daughters to be churchmen.  Card-carrying, catechized, psalm-singing Presbyterians!  I want them to have friends, young and old, outside our family in the family of God.  Further, parental authority should not cancel out ecclesiastical authority.  While my ruling elder is not the natural father of my children, he is still a father to them.  See Larger Catechism 124 and proof texts.  I rest my case.

3. As those in church leadership, we must cultivate 1 & 2 in every household.  Family religion has always been paramount within Reformed Christianity.  If minister and elders invest in family religion, they invest in the church.  And the more families are established, the more the church is established.  And under the blessing of God, the future generations join those before them in the praise of God (Psa. 78, 102).   More specifically, we must father our fathers and husband our husbands.  As the father goes, as a rule, so goes the family.  He is the linchpin.  As Baxter once put it, get the father, and half if not most of your pastoral work is done.  So we absolutely have to stress family religion from the pulpit, and regular household visitation cannot be optional.  Really, this one should go at the top.

4. Let us all be devout churchmen and make church-matters paramount.  We must be in the house of God every Lord’s Day, at each service.  As long as we are not laid up with some illness or away on necessary business.  We have to nip flimsy excuses in the bud and fall into ranks.  And we must love it there.  “One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple” (Psa. 27:4).  If it is not so with us, it certainly will not be with our children.

Also, we must make decisions of residence conditional on whether we will be near a good church.  In our affluent and extremely mobile society, it is very easy to hearken to the call of opportunity.  And a bigger income.  This has been going on for a long time.  Recently, we have been reading the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls-Wilder.  It is rather quaint and heart-warming.  But Pa Ingalls made his decisions to move his family apparently without the slightest thought of church.  Not good, Pa!  If we love our families, we will put church first.  We cannot sacrifice the bread of life for a bigger slice of the bread that perishes.  If this kind of churchmanship isn’t in our hearts, it won’t be in our children’s hearts.  If we are loosely attached to our churches, they will also.  They will move somewhere, and will settle for something spiritually sub-par.  Or worse, without mom and dad to wake them up and get them moving, they’ll sleep the Sabbath away.

5. Let us invest locally and bloom where we are planted.  This is a far-reaching concept, but I’ll just focus on its particular application to the issue.  Jeremiah called the exiles to unpack their bags and settle down in Babylon.  “Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them; take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished.  And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace” (Jer. 29:5-7).  Now, as confessional – and not ‘New’ – Calvinists, we don’t believe in the ongoing gift of prophecy.  So I can’t say we must chain ourselves for ever to where we presently live until a further word is received.  But I do think that there is a timeless principle here.  That is, we must recognize that God calls us to be faithful where He plants us, and we ought to be slow to leave our assigned plot until the orders are clear.  And the more skillful we are in the Word of God, the better we’ll be able to read providence and be sensitive to His real and not imagined guidance.  Time to unpack, folks.

If this is the case, then why not involve our children in the reverse-desertification right where we are?   Why not help them marry, plant gardens, and build houses nearby?   In the same state, city, or even neighborhood?  There is strength in numbers.  Of course, God may veto all of this.  He may call one of our children to be a missionary and live half-way around the world from us.  But shouldn’t this be an exception and not the rule?  What law of the Medes and Persians makes us expect that our kids and grandkids must live ten states away?  I wonder how much of this comes from assumptions we have just taken over uncritically.

6. Let us rethink, then, the law of sending off to college.  It has become more or less a rite of passage in modern America that a child will automatically leave home at 18 to go to a college far, far away from one’s parents and home church.  Now, I am not saying that it is necessarily wrong.  I am just saying that we should at least rethink it.  Must they?  Are there educational and vocational opportunities closer to home?  And nowadays, options online are expanding exponentially.  More often than not, there is gold in these hills.

Here in Rhode Island, there is still a sizeable Roman Catholic population.  While what is good in this culture is certainly eroding, immediate and extended family is still at a higher premium than elsewhere in the U.S.  At least, from my armchair.  As an indicator, many people go to college in state (the smallest in the union), marry in state, and settle in state.  Why do they do this?  Well, why not?  And why can’t we seek to restore it – at least a Protestant version?

Further, while I would suggest we rethink the law of sendingour children off to college, let me make a further distinction.  Sons are one thing, daughters are another.  We really need to protect our daughters, especially as the modern college scene is often at its best unwholesome, and at its worst a den of wolves.  Not in every case, I admit.  But in most.

If, however, we’ve already puffed the dandelion and the seeds have drifted far and wide, is there anything we can do to incentivize them to come back?  I’ve heard some states and countries hemorrhaging their young because they don’t see a future back home.  Other countries suffer from ‘brain drain,’ which makes their economic prospects bleak.  So what do they do?  They talk policy.  Provided that we adhere to biblical principle, isn’t there room for shrewd policy?  Let us be harmless as doves, yes.  But also wise as serpents!

7. Last, let us seek ‘rest’ for our children.  A lot of good things are being said today about how bad casual dating can be.  I couldn’t agree more.  And many are saying good things about how parents and especially fathers should be significantly involved in the courtship process.  But when I read the very, very long lists of extremely detailed questions some fathers have for prospective suitors, I sometimes get worried.   I understand 100% that we have to be guardians.  Even bulldogs at times.  But if we are only guardians and are not actively involved in building healthy family relationships within and without our congregations, we will have no pool of possibilities for our children.  And then they’ll have to go out and shift for themselves.  If we are not actively looking out for our Isaacs and our Ruths, then we will shoot ourselves and them in the foot.  And maybe even the heart.

If we’re doing this, though, and take the fatherly initiative, why not stock the pool strategically?  Why not include location to the wish-list?  No, location cannot trump piety or confessionality.  I’m not marrying my child off to an Arminian because he or she lives on the next street.  But can’t I put location somewhere on the list?  And within the location category, different ratings?  Best location, second best, third, and so on?   With three of my four children daughters, I may need to be prepared to kiss some of them goodbye.  But if I’ve done my work well, I hope to send them to second best location and not twenty-third.  And even then, only after I’ve made my best appeal to hubby to ‘come and stay for awhile.’

But while we think, plan, and busy ourselves in Kingdom building, we must do it always on our knees.  Only by the Spirit will the Church be built up.  And only by the Spirit will our seed be blessed in her walls.  “Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil. Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children. And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it” (Psa. 90:15-17).

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“What a union is that which exists between two believers, who have in common the same hope, the same desire, the same mode of living, the same service of the Lord; like brother and sister, united both in spirit and in flesh, they kneel down together; they pray and fast together; they teach, exhort, and support each other with gentleness; they go together to the house of God, to the table of the Lord; they share one another’s troubles, persecutions, and pleasures; they conceal nothing from each other; they do not avoid one another; they visit the sick and succour the needy; the singing of psalms and hymns is heard among them; they rival each other in singing with the heart to their God. Christ is pleased to see and hear these things; he sends down his peace upon them. Where two or three are thus met he is with them; and where he is the Evil One can not come.”

– Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 220 A.D.)

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Let’s face it.  Those of us who practice family worship usually don’t feel like it, often fall into formalism, and end off hopping down way too many bunny trails.  How many times, too, is the whole business interrupted because the little one has a runny nose (or worse, smelly drawers)?  The boy isn’t sitting up?  Or older sis is annoying the younger for the umpteenth time?   And after a long day of homeschooling, errands, cleaning, and damage controlling, mom is frazzled – and dad is just plain socked.   At its best, family worship is usually nondescript; at its worst, it approaches something like a three-ring circus.

And yet, when we look back on it more impartially, we find that there has been glory there all along.   After the drill is done – and done with some habit – we see in faith that the very rhythm itself has been wonderful.  All the children know their places.  The catechumens say their lines.  The old songs of Zion are taken up and singing fills the room; and those who can’t read croon right along.  The humble family Bible is taken out, and father reads a portion.  And then the approach to the throne of grace.

Yes, it’s flawed.  Messy even.  And we must confess that it is fraught with sin.  But it is covered in the blood and accepted by the Father.  Let’s open our eyes – there is glory here.  Things into which the very angels desire to look.

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