Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Night Dad Died

Note: Recently I drove past the hospital where my father had died. I realized that the day was the seventeenth anniversary of his death. My mother, who has yet to recover from the loss of my father, was in the car with me. Thoughts such as these whirled through my mind.

The night Dad was to die,
He was hundreds of miles from me away,
And so did my childhood then seem.
With memories already fading like a dream,
We jumped in the car and drove all day,
Reaching the night Dad was to die.

The night Dad was dying,
I arrived as he was taking life's last breaths,
The one who had seen me take my first.
Each of us seeing in the other the pain of the curse,
That life is just a gasp, and then comes death,
Grieving the night Dad was dying.

The night Dad lay dying,
His earthen hand in mine began to yield,
When, with sudden grasp, concern for my infant son arose.
Later, with tiny hand 'round my finger wrapped, "How," I pose,
"Quickly death follows on birth's heels,"
Pondering the night Dad lay dying.

The night death came to Dad,
He struggled to speak his love for me,
A body broken the key to a long-closed heart.
How his words tore me apart,
Bringing forth tears so hot, so free,
Feeling the night death came to Dad.

The night Dad died,
His departing soul touched mine,
Impressing upon me the mortal that I am.
Putting in me the longing for the land
Where I will be, by promise divine,
Forgetting the night Dad died.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Children Worshiping God

A Position Paper of the Session of Sycamore Reformed Presbyterian Church

“Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” -Matthew 19:14

An increasingly common practice found in the evangelical church is that either prior to the worship service or at some point during it, the children of those assembled are removed to another part of the building to participate in activities separate from the ones in which their parents are engaged. Often deemed “Children’s Church,” “Young People’s Worship,” or simply “Youth Activities,” the children of the congregation are offered fare that is supposed to be “more on their level.” Youth leaders use a wide array of activities, games, visual stimuli and dramatic portrayals to hold the young people’s attention and seek to instruct them in the faith. Often the explanation for this practice is that the children cannot comprehend what is taking place in the worship service, and that the adults need time to be undistracted by children’s needs so they can concentrate on the service. Yet in response to this movement we would raise the following questions: “What is the will of the Lord for the children of the church? Does the Lord of the church desire the children to be present in the worship assembly?” We believe questions such as these can be answered with three Biblical truths.

The Lord Views the Children of Believers as Heirs of the Kingdom of God

One of the underlying reasons for this practice of separating the children from their worshiping parents is the lack of belief in the church to see that the Lord regards the children of believers as belonging to the church. That children of believing parents are to be considered as members of the covenant community has been the case throughout the ages. When God first began to reveal the gospel through Abraham, who is not only to be recognized as the father of Old Testament Israel but the father of the New Testament Church as well (please see Galatians 3:6-9), He included the children of Abraham in all His promises to him. These promises, the highlight of which was the removal of sin and the restoration of life with God, were received by faith and were to be symbolized with the rite of circumcision. The Lord gave the promises not only to Abraham but to his children, and thus He commanded that the sign of these promises be placed not only upon Abraham but also his children. ”I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you…This is My covenant which you will keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised” (Genesis 17:7,10). Circumcision was to teach Israel that only through the blood and pain of a male descendant of Abraham would the filth of their sin be removed. Though literally dozens and dozens of Scriptural references could be given regarding God’s promises to the children regarding this truth, let this quotation from Deuteronomy 30:6 suffice, “Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul, so that you may live.’

These promises made to Abraham and Israel came to fulfillment in Jesus Christ. As the One who at Calvary removed our defilement by being made our circumcision (II Corinthians 5:21; Colossians 2:11), all the promises of God have become, as the Apostle Paul tells us, “Yes” in Christ (II Corinthians 1:20). The church of the New Testament, consisting of both Jew and Gentile, has become the New Israel, the spiritual descendants of Abraham (Romans 4:9-12). One of those glorious promises God has made through Abraham to us is that the children of believers in the New Testament age are then regarded as heirs of the covenant God made in Christ. As Peter preached the gospel at Pentecost and urged the listeners on toward faith and repentance, baptism, and the reception of the Spirit, he declared to them, “For the promise is for you and your children…” (Acts 2:39). Consequently, in Christ the sign of the promise was transformed and applied to the children of believers. The cleansing waters of baptism replaced the bloody rite of circumcision for, as the Apostle Paul states, “in Him you also were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism...” (Colossians 2:11-12). That baptism was applied to both believers and their families then should be expected and demonstrated in the New Testament, which is seen in the household baptisms that are recorded (Acts 16:15, 31-34; I Corinthians 1:16). As baptism signifies entrance into the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:13), the children of the church are to be viewed as members of the church and heirs of the promises of God.

When Abraham looked at the stars as God commanded him and he believed that his descendants would number as such, the Bible declares that God was preaching to him the gospel (Galatians 3:9) and granting Abraham righteousness by his faith in this promise (Genesis 15:6). The glorious promise, like a lost treasure the modern church is yet to rediscover, is that the Lord desires to shed His grace down to a thousand generations of those who love and follow Him. How this wonderful good news should capture the heart and imagination of every local congregation! “The lovingkindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to the children’s children, to those who keep His covenant and remember His precepts to do them” (Psalm 103:17-18). Thus, with respect to the church gathering for worship on the Lord’s Day, the proclamation of this wonderful news and the desire to pass the gospel of Christ down to the next generation should be a central reason for the church’s assembly. The church should labor and anticipate that the children unto many generations – indeed unto a thousand! - would be blessed of God by being regenerated in His timing so they too can trust in the Lord (Isaiah 65:23; Deuteronomy 7:9).

This then speaks directly to the issue at hand and leads us to the next truth regarding our covenant children.

The Lord Commands the Children of the Church to Worship Him

If God did not expect our children to participate in worship and share in the means of grace, then we would expect that when He addresses the worship assembly He would not command the children to worship. Yet this is exactly the opposite of what we find in Scripture. Many passages we use to call the congregation to worship speak to the young as well as the old. For instance:

  • “O fear the Lord, you His saints; for to those who fear Him there is no want. The young lions do lack and suffer hunger; but they who seek the Lord shall not be in want of any good thing. Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord” (Psalm 34:9-11).
  • “Praise the Lord from the earth,…Kings of the earth and all peoples; princes and judges of the earth; Both young men and virgins, old men and children. Let them praise the name of the Lord, for His name alone is to be exalted…” (Psalm 148:7-13).
  • "Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song, and His praise in the congregation of the godly ones. Let Israel be glad in his Maker; let the sons of Zion rejoice in their King” (Psalm 149:1-2).

The Lord of the church expects the youth of the congregation to be found among the assembled, as sons and daughters of the King, eager to rejoice and praise His glorious name.

The New Testament epistles testify to the expectation that children were to be found among those assembled, as the Apostle Paul in the book of Ephesians directly addresses the children following exhortations to their parents. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and you may live long on the earth” (Ephesians 6:1-3; see also Colossians 3:20). Since these epistles were to be read to the assembled congregation, it is apparent that children were included in the gatherings of the early church. This would also mean that the other aspects of apostolic instruction that preceded or followed the specific directions to the children were for them to learn as well. If the truth be known, often the leaders of the modern church do not want the children to be there because, like at a stage production, their cries and noises will ruin their carefully crafted “shows” for the audience. Nothing like a baby screaming to ruin a good solo! But the church is not an audience, and worship is not a show. Rather, the church is the household of faith where the family of God gathers, including its youngest members, to sit and learn at the feet of Christ, and to rise as one to praise His holy name. As heirs of the kingdom of God, the children should be found learning and worshiping right alongside the rest of us.

To those in church leadership or others who would think that their worship assemblies are not really the place for children, or have the misconception that Christ does not really care if the children are there or not, we would remind them of the reaction of the disciples, and then the strong words of Christ, when some parents wanted Jesus to bless their children. When the disciples saw these parents trying to bring their young children to Jesus, and saw some of them even bringing babies, they tried to stop them. “Jesus cannot be bothered with unimportant things like children! Those crying babies will drown out the message!” they protested. But Jesus saw the faith of the parents, He saw heirs of the kingdom, and so He rebuked His sincere but blind disciples with these words, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” He bids them come. They belong in His presence. The kingdom is theirs. Will you really stop them from coming?

The Lord Expects the Church to Carefully Nurture His Lambs

Having hopefully convinced our readers of the importance of including our children in the worship of God, a final important truth to help in the application of this practice must be noted. Children are, well, children, and as such must be nurtured along in the worship of God. They cannot be expected to behave appropriately, give proper devotion, and receive God’s blessings without proper instruction. We are warned by the Lord to not put stumbling blocks in front of our little ones (Matthew 18:1-6), so it would be prudent to give some further instruction on how to best aid the lambs in Christ’s flock.

To the parents: As parents of a covenant child, you must view your child as a gift of God to be trained in the way he should go (Psalm 127:5; Deuteronomy 6:5; Proverbs 22:6). If you want your child to worship the Lord on Sunday, then you must train him by worshiping God with him the other days of the week as well. If possible, it starts while they are nursing babes – singing and reading the word of God while you hold them in arms. As he learns to sing, pray, and listen to Scripture around the table or beside the bed in your home after a meal or before bedtime, he will then grow to love coming to church and doing the same with other friends in a more formal setting. You must constantly remind him of his baptism, that the Triune name of God is written upon his heart and life (Isaiah 44:1-5; Matthew 28:19-20), so that when he comes before God in worship he comes knowing he belongs to Christ. You must also press upon him as he enters young adulthood the need to profess publicly his faith in Christ, bear the marks of true Christianity, and seek communicant membership in the church, to show he has received the inheritance of God’s kingdom. Finally, never let the public worship of God be a safe haven for disobedience (“Mom and Dad won’t discipline me here because they would be too embarrassed.”) Take a misbehaving child out of the assembly and correct them so they learn that God expects their fear and obedience at all times, especially in His presence.

To the church: If you are in church leadership, you will find your ministry judged by God if you view children as a bother rather than the blessing and joy that they are, and if you regularly separate the children from God and their families. The children will grow up feeling that separation and living it out, and we are aware of many sad instances where this is the case. Rather, the church should work at promoting an environment in worship where the whole people of God are brought together as one. Pastors should make sure that the parts of the service can be understood by young and old alike, even addressing the children at times before a song, through an object lesson, or in the midst of the sermon to remind the children the things of God are for them. The church is a body, and members should seek to serve those with young children, providing help to young mothers, a nursery or crying room for the very young or the disobedient or the children of visitors, and patience and understanding when a child is unruly. The congregation should be diligent in seeing that the children are included and cared for in every way in the worship assembly.

Is not the last promise of the Old Covenant and one of the first of the New that the Lord would “restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers?” (Malachi 4:6; Luke 1:17). What better way can this be seen than in having young and old, parents and children, seeking the Lord together in worship? Sadly, the church has fallen away from this glorious vision, and the last threat of the Old Testament has come true, as seen in the lost children of our present generation. “I will come and smite the land with a curse,” the Lord threatened in the last verse of Malachi. May we seek the Lord and follow His will for the children of the kingdom, that His blessings may be restored to us again.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


Modern man thinks he does not worship idols, which only proves that he does. How so?

Consider for a moment the current epidemic of pornography. With the advent of the Internet and personalized computers, the pornography industry, put into check somewhat by the morality movement during the 1980's that led a few national chains to quit carrying obscene material, has returned with a vengeance. Some of the facts:

  • Estimates are that as many as 200,000 Americans exhibit addictive behavior to pornography, much like a drug user.
  • The Justice Department estimates that nine of 10 children between the ages of 8 and 16 have been exposed to pornography online.
  • Two-thirds of the divorce lawyers attending a 2002 meeting of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers said excessive interest in online porn contributed to more than half of the divorces they handled that year.
  • The pornography industry in the United States alone is a $10-14 billion enterprise.
  • One of every seven calls received at Focus on the Family's Pastoral Care Line regards internet pornography. One survey showed that forty percent of pastors had viewed internet obscenity in the last month.

That pornography is a major problem even in the church cannot be denied. What the church must see, but its very nature makes it impossible to see, is that pornography is idolatry.

For what is idolatry? Coming from a compund word that means "to serve images," idolatry is defined to be in part "blind or excessive devotion to something; image-worship or divine honour paid to any created object." The guy sitting at the computer screen gawking in awe at the image of a naked woman may scoff at the other guy gazing in awe at the image of the naked Buddha and say, "I would never do anything so stupid as that!", but then again that's the way of idolatry. Idolatry has blinded both fools.

For that's one of the most horrible judgments for idolatry. Listen to the pronouncement against the idolator in Psalm 115:4-8:

"Their idols are silver and gold, the work of man’s hands. They have mouths, but they cannot speak; they have eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but they cannot hear; they have noses, but they cannot smell; they have hands, but they cannot feel; they have feet, but they cannot walk; They cannot make a sound with their throat. Those who make them will become like them, everyone who trusts in them."

What the guy worshipping the beautiful body of the porn star does not understand is that his fantasy to actually see, hear and touch her is but a lie, and the awful truth is that he is actually becoming like the image in front of him. The Buddhist wants to reach a higher idealized state, and, oh boy, so does our pornographist, but he deludes himself. So I say to you who view pornography, "Don't you understand? That's not a real woman in front of you, but an image of her. She - no - IT cannot hear you, see you, feel you, talk to you and, quit kidding yourself, it certainly does not want to be with you. And do you not understand that is now what's happening to you? You cannot see, hear or feel either. You have become like the goddess you are worshipping - blind, deaf, insensitive, and unfeeling."

How? The pornographer is blind to the shame he brings upon his family. He is deaf to the cries of the men, women and children used in this shameful industry, and the eventual disease and death that come upon them. He cannot feel the pain he causes his wife by his cyber-adultery, and his protest that it is not adultery just proves all over again he has become like the idol (Besides, the Lord Jesus says it is adultery (Matthew 5:28).) He grows insensitive to the people around him, using them for his own lusts and pleasures. No wonder the vast majority of rapists, molestors, kidnappers and incest committers have used pornography prior to their crimes.

Any hope for the one practicing pornolatry? Yes, but all I will tell you here is that the first step involves tearing out your eyes (Matthew 5:29). If you think that's a bit too radical, then there's not much that can be done for you. But then again, if you are a pornographer, that's just your problem. What you cannot see is that you cannot see. What you cannot hear is that you cannot hear. What you cannot feel is that you cannot feel. After being told you are an idol worshipper, the best I can do for you at this point is just ask you the simple question of the TV commercial: "Can you hear me now?"

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

On Depression

On the Today show recently, actor Tom Cruise, speaking out of the convictions of his Scientology worldview, made headlines for attacking those who use medications such as antidepressants. One of the people he mentioned was actress Brooke Shields, who used the antidepressant Paxil following the birth of her child. Ms. Shields, who has written of her experience in a book I have not read called Down Came the Rain : My Journey Through Postpartum Depression, quickly responded with an editorial in the New York Times defending her use of the medication.

This "Star" Wars interchange cited above of "Cruise" missiles being fired against the "Shields" defense system caught my attention. I have watched a close family member struggle with bouts of severe depression for many years now who has chosen to treat it primarily with drugs and psychiatry. Unlike the way these two have portrayed themselves, I do not pretend to be an expert on this subject. But being a student of God's Word and also of people, I would just like to offer the following observations about the topic of depression, in the hope it could help you or someone you love.

Depression is a God-given emotion indicating something is drastically wrong. We have emotions that we enjoy, such as happiness or excitement. These positive emotions can often be attributed to God, even by an unbeliever. But we also have emotions with a more negative image, such as sadness, anger or fear, that our liberalized society cannot imagine being associated with God. Yet they come from His hand as well. He has given us these emotions, for the perfect Man, Jesus Christ, displayed sadness (Luke 19:41), anger (Luke 19:45-46), and fear (Luke 22:42), all in the same horrible, passion-filled week. Just because these emotions are so often used sinfully by man does not make the emotions themselves sinful. And depression is one of those emotions God has made us capable of feeling as a sign that something is terribly wrong.

Feeling depressed when a tragedy strikes, a disease afflicts, a relationship breaks your heart, or sin abounds in your life is the only way we should feel at those times. The Lord, who has made us in His image, created us to feel this way. He Himself feels exceeding sorrow when He looks upon these types of pains, as seen by the above Scriptural references or many others that could be given. Rather than trying quickly to suppress this emotion of depression, we should first see what it is trying to tell us. Just as anger indicates a problem that needs to be resolved, so depression is telling us something is not right and we need to be careful to not short circuit its message.

One of the liberating aspects of the psalms of the Bible is that they allow for the reality that the child of God will feel depressed, distressed and overwhelmed at times, and encourage us to acknowledge this. Two examples:

"My voice and prayer, O God, attend;
From ends of earth to Thee I send
My supplicating cry,
When troubles overwhelm my breast;
Then lead me on the rock to rest
That higher is than I."
-Psalm 61, Stanza 1, The Book of Psalms for Singing

"Thou Who before hast made me see
Much evil and distress
Wilt me revive and bring me up
From depths which me depress."
-Psalm 71D, Stanza 13, The Book of Psalms for Singing

Unlike Mr. Cruise, whose Scientology leads him to believe that learning to clear the mind through secret knowledge is how the negativity of such things as depression is overcome, or Ms. Shields and the multitudes who turn to mind-dulling medications to cope, the psalmist looks at his depression honestly. He knows that God has made him "see much evil and distress." He admits these troubles have overwhelmed and depressed him. Some times the psalmist realizes his depression is brought on by factors outside his control, such as seeing enemies pursing him or friends forsaking him. At other times, he recognizes his own unconfessed sin has made him feel this way, indeed that God himself has made him feel this way (See Psalm 32:3-4, then read the rest of the psalm). Though postpartum depression is common even among godly women, did Ms. Shields ever consider her immoral lifestyle and her divorce (My internet searching for this blog came across comments where she is openly saying she still loves her first husband while married to another man!) may have as much to do with her depression as hormonal or chemical imbalances?

The depressed then need real friends, not just sympathetic well-wishers. In having observed many people dealing with the depressed, it amazes me how often the well-wisher will express sorrow, take them to yet another counseling appointment, and encourage them to try yet another pill, then away from the afflicted's presence criticize the depressed for giving up or for being selfish. The well-wisher often sees exactly what the real problem is, but does not treat it with the right cure and so compounds rather than lessening the problem.

Proverbs 27:6 says, "Better are the wounds of a friend than the kisses of an enemy." Real friends speak with gentleness the honest truth the depressed need to hear. The well-wisher says to the depressed it is too bad you are so down; the real friend encourages them to take Biblical steps to lift their souls up to God. The well-wisher says he is sorry the depressed could not make it to church; a real friend tells the depressed he should have been there and, by the way, I'll pick you up next week. In a situation involving sin, the well-wisher often sidesteps and avoids any mention of it; the real friend sees a call to rebuke and seek restoration. You can give your depressed family member or friend no better comfort than to bring the gospel of hope to them. Though there may be times when medication may be needed short-term to calm a severely distraught person much as we use morphine to treat pain, this is not the solution. The depressed need to hear of the deliverance of Christ, and must be encouraged to treat their soul not with Prozac or Praxil but with the peaceful balm of Christ.

The depressed must learn then to preach to themselves, not just listen to themselves. This is the excellent point made by Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones, who was both a doctor and a pastor, in his book entitled Spiritual Depression. Dr. Lloyd-Jones quotes from such psalms as Psalm 42, where we read:

"O why, my soul, art thou bowed down?
Why so discouraged be?
Hope now in God! I’ll praise Him still!
My help, my God is He!"
-Psalm 42A, Stanza 6, The Book of Psalms for Singing

He then points out how often in the Scriptures the psalmist speaks to himself. Here for example he's telling his soul not to be discouraged, but to find hope and help in God. Even in his depression he will praise God, for he knows his deliverance will come. The depressed need to preach the gospel to themselves.

If you have ever been around someone who has severe depression, they usually are not speaking to themselves, but instead listening to themselves. "I can't go on anymore." "I don't feel like it." "My problems are too great to overcome." At the heart of these comments is unbelief . They are not trusting in the power of the Lord to deliver them from their woes, be it traumatic experiences or deadly sin. That's ultimately why God allows depression in the first place, that we would be so overwhelmed that we would finally realize what has been true all along. Without Christ, everything is hopeless. And when one is finally brought so low that he or she finally cries out in faith to Christ, that person will find deliverance from their distress. The One whom sin and death could not hold, who has the key to hell in His hand, is powerful to save. An active belief in Christ and the experience of salvation inevitably bring the peace and joy that lift the greatest depressions.

If only Mr. Cruise and/or Ms. Shields would vigorously discuss that!

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