Monday, August 28, 2017


Poetry 4

My next blog series, slightly delayed, hopefully will debut on September 11. In the intervening period between series I sometimes share with you a bit of poetry. Today's post is a poem I wrote sitting at my desk at Toyota Youngstown on a slow day about five months before I got married. It spoke of my hope for what our marriage would be. (The 'Man' referenced in the first line was a nickname I gave to Mandy.) Now, some eighteen years later, I find the desire I expressed in these words back then rings truer then ever. 

Sonnet XI

I want my life to merge with my dear Man, 
To twine itself around her own until
Others looking closely at us will
Not tell where she would end and I begin.
I want, to name a word I oft have used,
To mesh with her, to join, to be, to blend
So tightly nothing can be used to rend
A seamless union, welded, melded, fused.
Often in my daily chosen path
I meet with those who in unseemly wrath
Have severed lives not meant to be apart
Because they did it wrong right from the start.
Let us be together fifty years, 
Transformed so that our twain as one appears.

-Tom Brennan
July 19, 1999

One of our first pictures together
as a dating couple.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Three Benefits of Family Devotions

In the last few weeks I have repeatedly run across questions related to family devotions. Since I am currently between series' on this blog I thought I would take a week to offer my perspective. Of course, I do not think the only appropriate way to conduct family devotions will be the ideas here. I do, however, think that family devotions are an essential component of a vital Christian home, and I hope that you will consider them carefully.

My Dad and I discussing the
book of Philippians after
reading it together in my
backyard last week.
I was born and raised in a Christian home, one in which family devotions were held every morning before school. My father's procedure was simple. The eight of us gathered in the living room with our Bibles. Typically, we read a chapter of the Bible together and then prayed. The passage chosen was the next chapter of whatever book we were reading through. The youngest child read the first verse followed by the next in line, ending with my mother and father. Following this, we prayed around in the same turn order. And that was it.

When my first child was old enough to read we initiated the exact same thing in our own home. Now then, for many years, the five of us have gathered in the living room in the morning before school. We each bring our Bible. We read it in turn, and then pray in turn. In this manner in the past nine years we have read together as a family Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Ruth, I and II Samuel, II Kings, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Isaiah, Amos, Habakkuk, Zechariah, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, I and II Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, I and II Timothy, Hebrews, James, I and II Peter, I and III John, Jude, and Revelation. And the Apocrypha. Ok. Just joking about that last one.

Why did my parents do this in our home growing up, and why do I do it in my own home? Because Scripture tells us in numerous places that it is a parent's responsibility to acquaint their children with the Word of God. Consider the following instances please:

Deuteronomy 6:6–9
6 And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:
7 And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
8 And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.
9 And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.

Deuteronomy 11:18–20
18 Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes.
19 And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
20 And thou shalt write them upon the door posts of thine house, and upon thy gates:

Psalm 34:11
11 Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord.

Psalm 78:5–6
5 For he established a testimony in Jacob, And appointed a law in Israel, Which he commanded our fathers, That they should make them known to their children:
6 That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; Who should arise and declare them to their children:

Ephesians 6:4 
4 And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture 
and admonition of the Lord.

Not only is this taught in Scripture, it is also exemplified therein. Solomon taught his son, Rehoboam, God's Word. In fact, the entire book of Proverbs is the result. Timothy knew the Bible from a child (II Timothy 3.15) and this was a direct result of the faith of his grandmother and his mother. (II Timothy 1.5) Jesus knew the Word of God frontward and backward at the tender age of twelve. That does not happen absent a Bible-infused atmosphere in the home.

In addition to obeying the Lord and acquainting your children with the Word of God there are at least three other benefits that come to a home that practices family devotions on a regular basis.

First, family devotions force parental accountability for hypocrisy. If a mother loses her temper and in a moment of frustration curses her son, she will come face to face with that son over the Word of God the next morning. If a father decides to skip church to watch a ballgame, he will come face to face with his children over the Word of God the next morning.

My family at my high school graduation celebration
Did you ever notice that most of the qualifications for a pastor listed in I Timothy 3 involve the pastor's family? One of the reasons for this is that the spiritual condition of the family is the clearest visible indication of a genuine spirituality on the part of the father. Why? Because you can hide your hypocrisy from many people but you cannot hide it from those who live under the same roof with you. A father who regularly gathers his children around him to read the Word of God and pray together will find he cannot long ignore obvious flaws in his own character. He must address them in front of the family who sees them. He cannot hide from those little faces gathered together and staring at him solemnly from the couch of a morning.

Second, family devotions build a culture of praying together. This dynamic is tremendously helpful when your family is faced with a serious discipline situation, some sort of emergency or a crisis.

Every family at some point faces such things. If you have a habit of praying together with your children it is the most natural thing in the world to kneel together beside your son's bed, and ask the Lord to help him to do right, and then listen to his broken voice plead for grace at the throne of grace. When the call comes that grandpa has been rushed to hospital with a heart attack fear fills the eyes of each child. You gather, read Psalm 23, and pray. And grace arrives. Such moments are not strained; they are not forced; they are not awkward. They are as natural as breathing, and perhaps just as helpful. But such grace-filled moments are hard to come by in families that routinely neglect the Word of God and prayer.

Third, family devotions put the Bible front and center as a foundation for a practical family dynamic. When the Word of God is regularly read it is perfectly natural to consult it regarding any particular question that comes up regarding life in a family. A brother and a sister are fighting. Society gives a thousand different approaches to solve it. The Christian parent sits them down on the couch and tells them to read the Sermon on the Mount. They understand that because they are used to interacting with the Word of God on that couch. How do you teach your sons to respect women? With the Word of God. How do you help your daughter to deal with her emotions when friends turn their backs on her? With the Word of God. How do you deal with an otherwise innocuous television sports broadcast that suddenly veers hard left and advocates embracing homosexuality? You open up the Word of God. It is just what you do as a family because it has – over time – become who you are as a family.

I hurt for children who grow up in homes where the Scripture is just a book you go looking for when it is time to go to church. Their parents have abdicated their responsibility, and unknowingly or uncaringly left them without an anchor in the face of a horizon full of storms. Teaching children the Word of God is not the job of the church; it is the job of the parent. And the simplest, easiest, and perhaps best way to do it is simply to gather together every day, open it up, read it, and then pray.

It is of such stuff and only such stuff that generational faith is built.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Four Lessons From the Controversy

Micah 11

We have spent three months in the rather obscure book of Micah. Allow me to share four final thoughts with you before we go.

First, God's people need shepherding. Feed thy people with thy rod, the flock of thine heritage, which dwell solitarily in the wood, in the midst of Carmel: let them feed in Bashan and Gilead, as in the days of old. (Micah 7.14)

The concept of God being our shepherd is found most famously in Psalm 23 but it is not found there alone. It is also found in Genesis 49, Numbers 27, I Kings 22, II Chronicles 18, Psalm 74, 78, 79, 80, 95, 100, and 119, in Isaiah 40 and 63, Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 34 and 37, Zechariah 10, 11, and 13, Matthew 9, 25, and 26, Mark 6 and 14, John 10, Hebrews 13, and I Peter 2 and 5. That is a whole heap of a lot of passages. It is drawn most beautifully in Psalm 23, and I expect to devote a blog series some time to unwrapping that for you.

Beloved, we must needs understand we require shepherding. When God's people begin to get the idea that they know best themselves, and that they do not need protected, cared for, shepherded, or lead when they cease to yield or to follow trouble inevitably comes. We need the Good Shepherd, and must needs follow Him.

Second, God's people need to see their God as a big God.

7.15 According to the days of thy coming out of the land of Egypt will I shew unto him marvellous things.
16 The nations shall see and be confounded at all their might: they shall lay their hand upon their mouth, their ears shall be deaf.
17 They shall lick the dust like a serpent, they shall move out of their holes like worms of the earth: they shall be afraid of the LORD our God, and shall fear because of thee.

Doctrinally speaking, I am a cessationist. That means I do not believe in the exercise of the apostolic signs of tongues, prophesies, and miracles. But I do still believe we have a miracle working God. He does things that are flat out impossible for us to do. He does them in answer to prayer, He does them to help us in time of need, and He does them to demonstrate His own power to a lost world. Do not be a timid, thumb-sucking, paranoid, pessimistic, defeated Christian. It is not worthy of the God we serve. He wins, no matter how it currently looks. God wins.

Third, God's people must needs remember God's mercy. Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy. (Micah 7.18)

It is fairly common for a sinner to think, 'Well, my parents, my wife, my children will not forgive me. God probably won't either.' Yes, it is common, but is also one of the most vicious of the devil's lies. He whispers to you, 'What you did is unforgivable. Even by God.' And you believe him.

Such a lie, when it is believed, leads to depths of depravity that were unthinkable in a former life because now you sin in despair. You forget the wideness of God's mercy. You forget the depth of God's mercy. You forget the longsuffering of God's mercy. And, as in other areas, you create a God in your own image. Since others cannot forgive you and you cannot find a way to forgive yourself you cycle ever deeper into a veritable pit of disastrous sin.

Beloved, never, never, never forget the mercy of God. If you are breathing you can have it.

Fourth, never-ending sin will surely someday end, and God will fulfil all of His promises.

Micah 7.19 He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.
20 Thou wilt perform the truth to Jacob, and the mercy to Abraham, which thou hast sworn unto our fathers from the days of old.

What a comfort the doctrine of the final sanctification of God's people is to me! What a comfort it ought to be to His people, whether the church of God or the Israel of God. There is a very bright future and that very bright future is certainly coming for His people.

I could have called this post 'Hope in the Controversy.' It is remarkable, is it not, how a book of such fierce judgment ends in such great mercy and hope? That is all of a piece with Who God is, beloved.

I hope these few months we have spent together in Micah have been as much of a blessing to you as they have been to me. I hope you have gained not only a better appreciation for this obscure book, but even more than that I hope it has given you a better knowledge of God. I want you to know better Who He is, what He expects, and how He operates.

Let us adjust our actions accordingly. 

Next week I will probably inflict some poetry upon you, as I tend to do between series, but following that a new blog series is coming your way on the subject of reading. Stay tuned...