How Do You Spell “Family Night?”

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God help me, I know of no other way.

F = Fun. That’s right. We’re going to have fun. Yay!

acrosticA = Adventure. Un huh. Working on it. Pray for my favor with a certain band of recruits I’m wearing down with pastoral guilt to coerce their participation.

M = Ministry. Hear about what God is doing in gospel work inside and outside the church.

I = Inspiration. We’ll do some singing and look into God’s Word for a bit.

L = Love. That’s what fellowship is all about – connecting and loving on one another.

Y = Yelling. Doesn’t every church member/business meeting have some of this? Just kidding. Couldn’t think of anything for the letter “Y”.

 

N = News. Updates on all kinds of things of interest to OGC peeps who want to be in the know. 

sam_chileI = Indigestion. Well, we are eating chili, aren’t we? Don’t forget the Beano. Can’t believe I wrote that.

G = Guidance.  Direction for where we hope to take these quarterly member meetings in the future for increasing ownership. You didn’t think I would leave that word out of this post, did you? No way.

H = Hospitality. Newcomers are WELCOME! We want you to get an up close and personal look at our church’s character and DNA.

T = Tales. Some of our covenant members will share true stories about the way God is working in their lives and using their gifts. Others of us will pray for them.

 

There you have it. That’s how I spell “Family Night.” This Sunday evening, February 22, 5 PM. Chili Cook Off in the fellowship hall followed by one of the coolest annual meetings you will ever experience. Childcare for all ages will be provided for the meeting portion of the evening.

Who cares about the Great American Race? That’s why God made DVRs. Just sayin.

Don’t miss FAMILY NIGHT at OGC!

39 Years, 39 Lessons

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On December 21st of this year, my bride and I celebrated our 39th wedding anniversary. Since then I’ve pondered reasons why, by God’s grace, we’ve survived, even thrived all these years. I wondered if I could articulate as many lessons learned or being learned as years. Here’s what I came up with.

  1. Believe the gospel for yourself AND about your spouse.
  2. Love your spouse more by loving him/her less than Jesus.
  3. Believe the best of your spouse as a saint.
  4. Suspect the worst of yourself as a sinner.
  5. Repent of sin quickly.
  6. Use the words “Will you forgive me?”
  7. Use the words “Of course I forgive you.”
  8. Forgive 70 x 7.
  9. Patience, patience, patience.
  10. Listen attentively.
  11. Ask questions to draw out the heart.
  12. Avoid judging with broad-sweeping statements; speak the truth in love.
  13. Peacemake, don’t peacebreak, or peacefake.
  14. Get mediation help/counseling if necessary.
  15. Prize oneness highly.
  16. Wait until you’re on the same page the bigger the decision.
  17. Pray for one another.
  18. Pray with one another.
  19. Read the Bible together.
  20. Read good books on marriage and other topics together.
  21. Limit TV and other forms of digital entertainment time.
  22. Converse with one another.
  23. Defer to one another –  A LOT.
  24. Kiss each other good morning, goodbye, hello, and good night.
  25. Go to bed at the same time.
  26. Give conjugal rights freely.
  27. Go to church together.
  28. Be a part of a gospel community together (small group).
  29. Serve others inside and outside the church together.
  30. Practice hospitality.
  31. Keep good boundaries with extended family and in-laws.
  32. Never demean one another in front of others.
  33. Never raise your voice to one another.
  34. Share everything together.
  35. Eliminate the “D” word from your vocabulary altogether.
  36. Stay in touch with each other throughout the day, especially when travelling apart.
  37. Date each other; take walks together.
  38. Get away from the normal routine together, if and when you can.
  39. Always look for the next lesson God will teach you.

How Not to Disgrace Your Folks

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I chose to hunker down in the book of Proverbs for 2013. The wisdom promised as a result motivates me. Anything considered more valuable than jewels and incomparable to anything else I may desire (Prov. 8:11), that I want to acquire in greater quantities.

Recently I progressed in my reading to Proverbs 10, the second table of Solomon’s writings. The wise king’s starting place intrigued me. In one respect, it did not surprise. By and large this book of the Bible exists for young people and their benefit. Just read the first table in chapters one through nine to see quickly what I mean.

In the second table, where the writer moves on to a wide variety of proverbial sayings, he focuses on wisdom as it applies to a son or daughter from a unique perspective. He considers the prospect of a youth’s choices in terms of their impact for good or for ill on the parents. Here’s the text:

A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother. 2 Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death. 3 The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving of the wicked. 4 A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. 5 He who gathers in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame.

Now take it from a father who knows. Parents can do all kinds of things to bring shame on their kids. That’s a different post. This article deals with the other side of the equation. And make no mistake about it, Mr. Middle or High School student, your choices can have enormous ramifications on the Ma and Pa’s psyche. You should care about that. Check out the fifth commandment if you think otherwise. If you turn out wise, you make them glad. If you go the way of a  shipwrecked fool, you bring sorrow and shame. Which do you want? Settle the matter early. Choices you make today impact the kind of person you become tomorrow.

Please note the acid test Solomon immediately goes to in terms of measuring a youth’s wisdom or folly quotient – his or her approach to wealth. No surprise here. Jesus said you can’t serve God and money (Matt. 6:24). As my sidekick in ministry likes to say: time and money tell all. What you do with your time and your money reflects the idols of your heart. The heart always worships what it desires most. Never, never, never, dear teenager, doubt the significance of your disposition toward the almighty dollar.

wealthhighachievers

Solomon cites two virtues related to wealth and its accumulation  that, embraced by the child of a parent (presumably wise as well), will ensure a glad-hearted  response on the part of that parent – integrity and industry. Kids, you can fall off the horse in at least two directions in this money thing. First, you can resort to evil in the name of making a profit. Good luck with that. Deception, fraud, embezzlement, or any other wicked means to line your pocket with Benjamins will not help you on the day you die – only righteousness will. God is not mocked. You sow what you reap (Gal. 6:6-10). Think I heard that preached somewhere recently.

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Second, you can care less about acquiring wealth by perfecting the art of laziness. The writer talks about summer and harvest and the like because that connected with the way folks made their living those days in an agricultural society. You can make the jump on your own to our industrial/service age. The issues don’t differ. Diligence is a virtue. As a rule, it makes one wealthy (Prov. 13:4). The Hebrew word for “diligent” is used in Isaiah 41:15 of a threshing instrument that winnows grain well because of its sharpness. Sloth makes you dull. It will lead to poverty. Industry, hard work, showing up on time at your place of employment, laboring hard throughout the day, giving 110% effort – these things, because of your prudence, will see you well taken care of AND make your folks proud rather than ashamed.

So, what’s it going to be? Integrity or shadiness? Industry or sloth? Death or life? It’s not the most important aspect of these questions by a long shot, but it still matters. The difference in your choices will make for deliriously happy parents or dreadfully sad ones. Determine by God’s grace and the power of the gospel of Jesus to do all you can for the former.

Love Problems Are God Problems

love_is_all_you_need_

Given my role as a pastor, I see a lot of these. Love problems. They crop up all over the place, especially in marriages.

Recently I scoured the web for potential resources to use in a marital support group to help some couples deal with their recurring issues. Finally I landed on a book and accompanying study guide that looked very promising. Winston Smith’s Marriage Matters: Extraordinary Change through Ordinary Moments (New Growth Press, 2010, 285 pages) stood out among the myriad of offerings. This Christian Counseling and Education product doesn’t seek so much to contribute to the numerous biblical theologies of marriage on the market, many of them good as they are. This tool helps couples work through how the gospel can bring lasting change to troubled relationships in the ordinary, often challenging, moments of everyday life.

Smith’s premise goes like this: marriages change when we recognize God’s agenda for so-called ordinary moments. He launches his argument from a familiar passage of Scripture and then unpacks the core idea.

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7-8, italics mine).

Marriage_Matters“God is love.” We all want more love in our marriages. Who doesn’t love love? For the most part, we marry because of love–or at least because we hope for love. But in the most difficult moments we don’t feel loved, and we find it hard to love. God may not seem to make much difference in these moments; however, his involvement is crucial because God is love. When we find it hard to love, we need him all the more. A lack of love should prompt us to not just look more closely at our marriage but at our relationship with God.

The bad news: your love problems are bigger than you think because love problems are God problems. The good news: the solution is bigger than you think because God cares and is involved. Having more love in your marriage means having more of God in your marriage. Having trouble loving is evidence either that you don’t know God or that something is interfering in your relationship with God (p. 9).

Duh. Why didn’t I think of that? When that revolutionary concept sunk into my think head and prone-to-be-hard heart, I decided I needed to take the love problems in my marriage more seriously. Yes, tough as it is to believe, Nancy and I have these too, from time to time. Most, by the way,  are due to my idols doing their destructive thing in our relationship.

I knew without a doubt the first step I needed to take – memorize and mediate regularly on 1 Corinthians 13, sometimes referred to as the love chapter in the Bible.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Part of mediation involves inserting my own name into v. 4-6 and praying the content back to God. Curt is patient and kind; Curt does not envy or boast. Lord, make these things true of me. You get the idea.

Do you have love problems? We all do. Bad news: the problem is bigger than you think. Good news: the solution is bigger than you think. Why not ask the Lord to help you bring your love problems with your spouse or whomever to the Lord so as to tap into His unlimited reservoirs of love? He alone can enable us to love better our neighbor as ourselves. And to ensure that the nature of your love matches His own, take up my challenge to memorize the love chapter and prayerfully meditate upon it. It will surprise you just how much that spiritual discipline shapes the ordinary moments you share with those whom you love.

From now on I think I will make memorizing 1 Corinthians 13 mandatory in my premarital counseling ministry. Better late than never.

Employing Basic Familial Liturgies

I realize that’s not your average post title.

I borrow heavily from R. C. Sproul, Jr. in a recent issue of Tabletalk magazine.

It struck me as significant as I have been reading Proverbs 4 throughout this fourth month of the year. There the writer exhorts his son in the first four verses:

Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction,
and be attentive, that you may gain insight,
2 for I give you good precepts;
do not forsake my teaching.
3 When I was a son with my father,
tender, the only one in the sight of my mother,
4 he taught me and said to me,
“Let your heart hold fast my words;
keep my commandments, and live.

Of course that begs the question, “What words?” No more important a concept may be conveyed to our children than that of their identity in Christ as followers of the Lord. Here’s where I thought Dr. Sproul Jr. hit the ball out of the park:

When my oldest children were still young, my wife and I labored to be certain that their identity was in Christ, in our shared identity as a house that, like that of Joshua before us, would serve the Lord. I instilled this in my children partly through some rather basic familial liturgies. While Hollywood and Madison Avenue were seeking to get my daughter to see herself in terms of her demographic, I wanted her to see herself in light of her Savior. So I taught her, when I asked her name, this call and response: Me—“Darby, what are Sprouls?” Darby— “Sprouls are free.” Me—“And whom do Sprouls serve?” Darby—“Sprouls serve King Jesus.” Me—“Whom do Sprouls fear?” Darby—“Sprouls fear no man; Sprouls fear God.”

May I suggest that you employ such a liturgy in your teaching of your children? May they keep His commandments and live.

Dealing with Your Earthly Dearest

Another OGC couple made the marital plunge this past weekend. I actually got the family name right this time around. With their “I do’s” Danny and Beth became even more than they already are each other’s earthly dearest.

How are they/we to keep from allowing our earthly dearest to outstrip our affections for our heavenly dearest? The words of C. S. Lewis give helpful counsel:

When I have learnt to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now. Insofar as I learn to love my earthly dearest at the expense of God and instead of God, I shall not love my earthly dearest at all. When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased.

Pray to God for grace to put first things first that second things be not suppressed but increased.

Gospel-Powered Parenting

Frankly, I want gospel-powered everything.

After all, the gospel and only the gospel, is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16-17).

However, every parent feels the stakes higher in the area of how they shape their children’s lives than in perhaps any other sphere of their existence. As a pastor, that makes me on the lookout for any resource that will help dads and moms look to the gospel of Christ for the basis from which they parent their children.

William Farley gets pretty good reviews in this regard with his book Gospel-Powered Parenting. I confess I haven’t read it yet, but it is on my short list. I suppose that’s because I keep having conversations with parents wrestling with the challenges of bringing up their children, particularly in their teen years, in ways that glorify God.

Tim Challies, in an interview with the author, shares this sentiment from Farley, a sentiment that further intrigues me:

The gospel also protects parents from “moralism,” the idea that well-behaved children are the main thing. New Birth is the main thing. The morality of Christ imputed to your children is the main thing. It is not what our children do for Christ but what Christ has done for our children that is the main thing. Ironically, without aiming at it, gospel centered parents get godly behavior from their children.

I want to be gospel-centered in everything I do as a pastor, including shepherding the parents of OGC effectively into gospel-powered parenting.

If you read this resource, or have read it, let me know what you think.

A Tale of Four Households

By tale I don’t mean fiction. Each family referenced in this post once existed or does now actually exist. These tales relate fact, some of it hard-to-swallow, down right mind blowing truth.

Household #1 – Ezekiel the prophet’s.

Every year as I read through the entirety of the Bible I always come up short when I reach Ezekiel 24:15-18.

The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down. Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your shoes on your feet; do not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men.” So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded.

God employed His prophet during unique times of judgment ministering among His people during exile in Babylon. The Lord put numerous difficult requirements upon Ezekiel in the object-lesson-like way He spoke to rebellious Israel through the prophet, but none more staggering in its implications than this one. He slew His servant’s wife, none other than the delight of his eyes. The sovereign Lord of the universe, at a stroke, struck down the man’s bride. Additionally, to suit His purposes of pressing home conviction for Israel’s hardness of heart in the face of judgment, God prohibited Ezekiel from demonstrating any grief (Ezek. 24:19-24).

Remarkably, Ezekiel treasured the Lord more than the delight of his eyes and did as he was commanded. This man did not worship at the altar of his marriage. His wife was no idol. God’s purposes trumped everything, even long life with his beloved, in this servant’s journey toward a better country (Heb. 11:16).

Household #2 – Dr. R. C. Sproul, Jr.’s

Dr. Sproul, a teaching fellow at Ligonier Ministries, lost his wife, Denise, at the tender age of 46 this past Sunday morning after three different battles with cancer. She left behind not just her bereaved husband, but eight children as well, ages 2 to 18. I represented the OGC leadership at the memorial service the morning of this writing, extending our condolences and assuring of our prayers.

Not surprisingly, given the affinity for Reformed theology in the Ligonier and St. Andrew’s families, all who spoke waved high the banner of God’s sovereignty over the hard providence of loss, not at all unlike the account of Ezekiel 24. “The Lord took her home” and phrases like it were spoken without reservation as if this were something God had done. The Lord gave and He has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21). Fortunately for Dr. Sproul Jr. and all in attendance, no prohibition of grieving held sway over the sorrowful yet rejoicing occasion (2 Cor. 6:10).

I am told our dear sister went home to her reward to take up residence in the suite Jesus had prepared especially for her (John 14:2) around 6 AM that Sunday. I am further told that the St. Andrews family gathered for worship as usual later that morning and that Dr. Sproul, Jr. attended. I count him among that brave and happy band of brothers who, even in the grip of staggering loss, resolves to do as God commands.

Household #3 – Mine

Today Nancy and I mark our 37th anniversary. This morning I went to a colleague in the gospel’s memorial service for his bride. Tonight I will take my bride to a restaurant and celebrate nearly four decades of covenant marriage and ministry partnership. The irony of the confluence of these things on the same day was not lost on me, especially as a cancer survivor enjoying over six years cancer free after my life-and-death battle with the disease in 2005.

As I drove to the memorial service, I asked. Why me, Lord? Why do I get to dine with the delight of my eyes while this man with a far greater stewardship of ministry and breadth of impact than I will ever have buries the delight of his eyes this Christmas?

Only one answer suffices – the sovereignty of God. The same banner flies over all three households. “What do you have that you did not receive” (1 Cor. 4:7). “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me (John 21:22)!”

Whatever the providence, bitter or sweet, hard or soft, good or bad, in life and death, for the follower of Jesus who loves Christ more than life and wife and breadth, there can be only one response at ever turn. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Josh. 24:15). By His grace and through His power we will do as He commands as High King of heaven, God the Father over all and through all and in all (Eph. 4:6).

Household #4 – Yours

Providence shapes your experience this Christmas season and into 2012 and beyond. All your circumstances, past, present, and future come through the hand of the One whose counsel stands accomplishing all His purpose (Isaiah 46:10) and works all things together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).

In all those providences, one question remains. Will you do as He commands for His glory and your greater joy?

The Masculine Mandate – 2011 Book for Oxford Club

My agonizing journey through the wilderness of addiction in years past prompted me to read numerous books on masculinity. What a hodgepodge of ideas and speculations! Some proved more helpful than others. Never have I felt comfortable turning to one as the resource for our Oxford Club for men, until now.

Upon reading Richard Phillips’ The Masculine Mandate: God’s Calling to Men (Reformation Trust, 2009, 175 pages) just a couple of months ago, I felt immediately impressed that this book definitely warranted our attention as men at Orlando Grace.

Among other reasons, the book’s biblical and theological integrity struck me as remarkably unique compared to a good bit of what comes off evangelical publishing presses in our day and age. One reviewer, commenting for Discerning Reader, commented that it contains enough Scripture nearly to pass for a commentary!

The reviewer further notes:

What is the masculine mandate? Phillips says that, “Rather than following the American stereotype of cold, macho masculinity, Christian men should seek to grow in their ability genuinely to bless others.” He points to this mandate in Genesis chapter 2, which “shows that God created man for a purpose. God ordained that Adam would bear His image both in his person and in his work, and God put Adam in the world to work it and keep it—to be a cultivator and a protector.”

Men today, like Adam in Genesis chapter 2, are called to “work” and “keep.” “God put Adam in the garden ‘to work it and keep it’ and the only difference between Adam’s calling and ours lies in the details of how we seek to fulfill it.” What are some of the areas where men are called to be workers and keepers? The author concentrates on five: employment, marriage, children, friends, and the church.

Men have the responsibility to work hard to glorify God through employment. They are to be good husbands, loving their wife “as Christ loved the church.” They are to be godly fathers who both disciple and discipline their children. They are to be friends to the men whom God has put in their lives. And they are to serve and lead in the church.

Oxford Club resumes on January 8, 2011 at 7 AM at the church office. Newcomers to our band of brothers are most certainly welcome. We bring our own breakfast. We end promptly at 9.

You can secure a copy of our new book from the resource table any Sunday this month for a mere $7.50 or whatever you can afford.

Let me know you plan to come and I will send you a copy of a self-study guide to help prepare you for our discussion.

Pray with me that God works in the men of OGC to shape us according to a God-honoring masculine mandate that causes us to heed His calling as men in every sphere of our lives!

Two Complimentary Registrations

Through my connections with the Florida Chapter of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, I have access to two complimentary registrations for this weekend’s conference on adoption in Lake Mary.

For a detailed look at the conference click on here.

The description on the site is as follows:

We will hear gifted men exposit the Scriptures concerning how you, your family, and your local church, can embrace this life-changing truth in very practical ways. The speakers will trace the love of God to the adoption of His children. They will also bring out how that love should motivate us to care for the needs of children that do not have loving parents or a family.  These teachings on the comfort and hope of adoption will warm your heart and deepen your understanding of what it means to be a part of God’s forever family. Your appreciation for the Christian family and the church will grow as you discover how these divine institutions meet very real needs in practical ways.

Registration included entry, meals, and a concert by Andrew Peterson on Friday night!

If you would like to know the coupon code to use for registration, email me at revheff@gmail.com and I will be happy to share it with you, first come/first served.