Category Archives: Christian living

Book Review: Loving Jesus More

Loving Jesus More, Phil Ryken.  Wheaton:  Crossway, 2014.  Paperback, 175 pages.

The Bible compares our relationship to the Saviour in several ways:  disciple/Teacher, sheep/Shepherd, servant/King, and more.  One of the most powerful images is that of the Bridegroom and his Bride.  Jesus is the husband, and the church is his beloved wife.  We are in this relationship with Christ where he deeply loves us and is covenantally committed to us.  Unfortunately, we don’t always reciprocate that love as we ought.  That’s what this book is about.  The title says it all:  it’s aimed at stirring up Christians to love their Saviour more.  What Christian wouldn’t want to do that?

Phil Ryken is the president of Wheaton College in Illinois.  He’s written numerous books besides this one.  Loving Jesus More came out of a series of chapel messages he delivered at Wheaton College in 2012-2013.

Though it comes from a scholar, this book is far from being academic in tone or approach.  Rather, its tenor is thoroughly devotional and pastoral.  Ryken gets to the heart of the matter, diagnosing why we don’t love the Saviour more, but also showing the way forward.  He does all of this by faithfully expositing and applying relevant Scripture passages.

For a short book, it punches well above its weight.  The writing is crisp and winsome.  Let me give you a brief sample.  In chapter 2, Ryken writes about doubt and how doubt can impact your love for the Saviour.  He notes:

Some believers spend too much time doubting their faith, and not enough time doubting their doubts.  Yes, there are some reasonable questions that thoughtful people have always raised about the Christian faith.  But there are also some very good questions that faithful people should raise about their spiritual doubts:

  • Have I studied what God has to say on this question, or have I been listening mainly to his detractors?
  • Am I well aware of the how this doubt has been addressed in the history of Christian theology, or has my thinking been relatively superficial?
  • Have I been compromising with sin in ways that make it harder for me to hear God’s voice and diminish my desire for the purity of his truth?
  • Is this a doubt that I have offered sincerely to God in prayer, or am I waiting to see if God measures up to my standards before I ask for his help?  (p.33)

The book is peppered with appropriate illustrations (many of which I’ve noted for my own preaching and teaching!).  Moreover, Loving Jesus More also includes a Study Guide with helpful questions for reflection or group discussion.

This little gem could be quite edifying reading for a number of quiet Sunday afternoons.  I’d also recommend it as a gift for those who make public profession of faith.  They’re openly stating their love for the Saviour – and we should encourage that love to grow.  And, for all of us, don’t we desire to grow in affection for the Saviour who literally loved us to death?  That growth will happen through the Scriptures, and also through faithful books like this one based on Scripture.


Top Five Tips for Better Family Worship

Family worship (or family devotions) is an important part of growing a Christian family.  In Reformed churches, Christian parents promise to disciple their children.  Regular family worship is one of the proven ways to do this.  However proven it may be, it always comes with challenges.  To assist you in overcoming these challenges, let me share my top five tips for improving family worship time.

1. Be Flexible

For a lot of us, family worship is connected to family meals.  That’s how we grew up.  There was prayer and Bible reading, possibly singing and discussion, but it was always after a meal.  Typically, it was the evening meal.  Today we live in a time when families are eating together less and less.  That issue could be discussed some other time.  However, let’s recognize that there is no biblical mandate for a family to eat together.  There is, however, a biblical mandate for Christian parents to bring up their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord.  If you’re going to disciple those children and family meals are difficult to organize, then it’s time to get creative.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way.  I know of a Christian father who worked in the construction industry.  He put in long days, often not coming home till after his youngest children were in bed.  Yet he took his responsibilities seriously as a father called to disciple his children.  Under his leadership, the whole family got up a bit earlier in the morning and they did family worship together first thing in the morning.  That’s what I’m talking about when I say, “Be flexible.”  Find a way that works for your family and then run with it.

2. Aim for More than Just Reading the Scriptures

In our family worship, we want to be reading the Bible together.  However, there should also be some way of connecting the passage with our lives as Christians.  We ought to reflect on how this or that passage points us to Christ.  To help in that, I cannot recommend more highly the “Notes for Personal and Family Worship” in the Reformation Heritage Study Bible.  This is an outstanding resource!  It’s recently come to my attention that these notes are published separately by Reformation Heritage Books as the Family Worship Bible Guide (see here).

Every chapter of the Bible includes some helpful notes, and often thought-provoking questions.  Every one can benefit this resource, even couples with no children at home.

3. Catechize

It’s a sad truth that many Christian parents believe that catechism is just something for the church to do.  No!  It starts with parents teaching their children Christian doctrine.  Parents are the front-line youth pastors of Reformed churches.  By the time they arrive at a church catechism class, those kids should already have the basics of Christian doctrine down cold.  To help with that, I have another recommendation to make:  Starr Meade’s Training Hearts, Teaching Minds.   This book includes a week’s worth of instructional devotions on every Q and A of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.  It’s all laid out for you — easy peasy.

4. Sing 

When I was growing up, I knew of one Christian family in our church that sang in their family worship.  One — that’s it.  That’s sad.  God loves to hear his people sing.  We should be singing, not only in church on Sunday, but in our homes during the week.  You say that you don’t know how to sing very well?  Well, join the crowd — neither do I.  But you know what?  It doesn’t matter.  Whether you sing well or sing poorly, God doesn’t care.  His Holy Spirit will perfect your singing as it rises to the throne of grace.  Because of what Jesus has done, Christians have every reason to lift up their voices and sing!   By the way, if you’re CanRC or FRCA and need help with tunes from our Book of Praise, there’s this awesome resource:  Jane Oosterhoff has recorded herself singing every thing in the Book of Praise.  You can find her on YouTube at this link.

5.  Take Turns Praying

Prayer has to be part of family worship too, but it doesn’t always have to fall on Dad’s shoulders.  In fact, teach your children to pray not only by hearing you pray, but by giving them opportunities to lead in prayer themselves.  Think of what you’re doing.  You’re teaching your sons to lead in prayer.  When they have a Christian girlfriend or fiancée, praying with her won’t seem odd or weird.  He knows how to lead in prayer.  You’re teaching your daughters to lead in prayer.  When they become Christian mothers and Dad isn’t around, they’ll know to how to step up to the plate.  All your boys and girls will be able to lead in prayer at study club/Young People’s, etc.  Do you see that teaching your young ones how to pray is an important part of helping them grow as disciples of Jesus Christ?  Let them learn by doing.

 


Really Part of the Family

Do you remember the first time you met someone who’d been adopted?  I do.  We were living in the Canadian Arctic and there was this family in the church we were attending.  Like my Dad, the father in the family was an RCMP officer.  They lived in our neighbourhood and we spent a lot of time together.  They had a son and he was a little bit younger than me — he had been adopted.  Had I not been told, I never would have guessed.  They treated him exactly like one of their own.  I was fascinated by this concept of a mother and father taking a child that, biologically speaking was unrelated, and adopting him for their own.

Flash forward some years later and now I have a niece who was born in China.  She spent the first couple years of her life in an orphanage, abandoned by her birth parents.  My sister and brother-in-law adopted her.  She’s now really part of their family.  My sister and brother-in-law are the only mother and father that she’s ever known and will know.  Her older brothers love her dearly.  It’s a beautiful thing.  Even though I haven’t yet met her, I feel like she’s just as much a beloved part of our clan as anyone else.

Adoption amongst human beings can be impressively beautiful, but even more beautiful is divine adoption.  Even more amazing is how a holy God who was once our judge and our enemy becomes our Father through Jesus Christ.  Adoption brings us into this close family relationship with the King of the cosmos.  That is astounding if you pause to reflect on it.  And we should reflect on it often.  Reflecting on it leads us to praise and wonder.  Reflecting on it leads us to marvel at grace and this leads us to love the one who first so greatly loved us.

I can think of no better concise definition than that given by the Westminster Shorter Catechism in QA 34:

What is adoption?

Adoption is an act of God’s free grace, whereby we are received into the number, and have a right to all the privileges of the sons of God.

Adoption is an essential part of the Christian’s experience of salvation.  If you are saved by God’s grace, you’re adopted into his family.  The two can’t be separated.  All those who have been declared righteous by God (justified) are also adopted.  Everyone who has been justified is brought from the court room to the family room.  More, just as with justification, the only basis for our adoption is the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf.

What is the instrument through which we receive this benefit?  Faith.  Galatians 3:26, “…for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”  While we are promised adoption in the covenant of grace, we only receive what is promised by placing our trust in Jesus Christ.  You cannot be adopted into God’s family apart from faith in Jesus Christ.

Once you are adopted into God’s family through Christ, your adoption is irreversible.  God writes your adoption certificate with indelible ink on indestructible paper.  When God is your Father, he is your Father forever.  Nothing and no one can ever take that away.  Your place is secure.  You don’t wake up each morning and have to wonder whether you’re still in the family.  Once adopted, you are securely in that loving relationship.

From God’s side, this glorious truth of adoption results in several outcomes.  Chief among them is the new way God relates to us.  He is our Father, not our Judge.  As a Father, he dearly loves us as his children — “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1).  What “kind of love” is this?  It’s a love where we have the care of a Father.  He pities us, he protects us, and he provides for us.  Moreover, if we should stray from him, like any good earthly father, our heavenly Father disciplines us for our good (Heb. 12:6-10).  As our Father in Christ, he also invites us to free and open access to his throne of grace.  Our Father is a great and awesome King, but yet his children are welcome to approach him boldly — no need to dread!  Romans 8:15 encourages us, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!'”  Finally, from God’s side, he promises that we will receive his rich inheritance.  We are the heirs of the Father’s kingdom, to the new creation.  It’s all promised to his children and his children will receive it with joy!

There are also outcomes on our side of this relationship.  We love and worship this God who has freely adopted us as his children.  We love to be in his presence in public worship.  We look forward to eternity in his blessed presence in heaven.  While we still live here, we call on God as our Father.  Our Saviour Jesus teaches us to pray, “Our Father who is in heaven” to impress on us the nature of our relationship with the Triune God.  This is going to be reflected in our prayers.  We regularly confess our sins to our Father, look to him for fatherly forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  In prayer we also express our dependence on our Father.  Without him, we have nothing and are nothing.  Finally, in this adoptive relationship, we aim to obey the will of our Father because we know this pleases him.  We want to please him — children who stand in awe of their earthly fathers and love them want to please them.  Similarly, God’s children through Christ aim to please him with their lives.  We do that by striving to imitate our Father.  I always wanted to be like my Dad.  Dad was a pilot, I wanted to be a pilot.  The same happens with the true adopted children of God.  They want to follow in their Father’s footsteps.

I love the Christian doctrine of adoption!  It gives such comfort and assurance to be reminded that we have this intimate relationship with the mighty God who created the universe and holds it in his hands.  Along with all other Christians, I am his beloved son, really part of his family.  What a position to be in!  Nothing can ever take that away from me.  It’s a gospel truth that’s locked up and secure in Jesus the only Saviour.


Top Three Marriage Books

Over my years in the ministry, I’ve taught many marriage preparation classes.  From time to time, I’ve also counselled couples with marriage problems.  In my preaching, I’ve had many opportunities to speak about marriage.  Besides all that, I’ve been married myself for what’s going on to 23 years.  All these things give me a vested interest in good books about marriage.  I’ve read a few.  Almost all of them have something worthwhile, but there are some that really stand out.  Here are my top three, in order of importance:

When Sinners Say “I Do”: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage, Dave Harvey.

This one tops the list because of the author’s relentless focus on the gospel.  Written in a warm, personal style, Dave Harvey helps couples come to terms with the biggest problem that all marriages face and the solution to this problem.  Along with some of the other topics one would expect in a marriage book, he also discusses one you don’t often encounter:  death.  If you’re going to read just one book about marriage, make it this one.

Strengthening Your Marriage, Wayne Mack.

Are you ready to get to work on your marriage?  Then this is the book you’re looking for.  It’s not just a review of biblical teaching about marriage, but a very practical workbook.  It contains a variety of exercises for husbands and wives to complete.  The idea is that they would be done with a pastor or counsellor, but certainly couples could benefit from doing them on their own too.  I use Wayne Mack’s book Preparing for Marriage God’s Way for my marriage preparation classes and I appreciate his biblical approach.

Each for the Other: Marriage As It’s Meant To Be, Bryan Chapell with Kathy Chapell

I really like this one for three reasons.  One is that it includes the perspective of a woman.  Another is that it has great stories and illustrations to drive home the points of the authors.  Finally, I value the clear explanations and applications of biblical submission and headship.  This book also includes discussion questions to go with each chapter.


Absurdity

Can we pray to Jesus?  This is a question that I’ve answered countless times, both in sermons and here on Yinkahdinay.  It’s a question that I have to keep coming back to, because the answer sometimes given to that question is not only wrong, but harmful.  Some say that since Jesus taught in the Lord’s Prayer for us to pray to the Father, we must therefore only pray to the first Person of the Trinity.  The Lord’s Prayer says “Our Father,” and therefore we may not pray to Jesus.  Case closed.

However, if such voices are wrong, they fly against what we confess in article 32 of the Belgic Confession.  There we confess that we must not deviate from what Christ has commanded for worship.  Then read this carefully: “Therefore we reject all human inventions and laws introduced into the worship of God which bind and compel the consciences in any way.”  So, if someone says that we must not pray to Jesus, and Scripture says that we are allowed to pray to Jesus, that person is introducing a human law which illicitly binds and compels our consciences.  There is a lot at stake here.

There are several ways I could address this question.  I could point out the proper explanation of “Our Father” in the Lord’s Prayer (see here).  I could mention the explicit biblical passages where prayer to Jesus is not only observed, but even invited (John 14:14, Acts 7:59, 1 Cor. 16:22, Rev. 22:20).  I could discuss again how the primary author of the Heidelberg Catechism, Zacharias Ursinus, answered this question using an essential theological distinction.  I could point out the practice of the early church with church fathers such as Augustine, the practice of the medieval church with Anselm of Canterbury, the practice of the Reformation church with William Farel, or the post-Reformation church with Thomas Watson.  We could note that the Athanasian Creed speaks of worshipping the Trinity in unity, and unity in Trinity, noting how this has been understood throughout the history of the church.  We could note the prayer-like hymns we sing which address Jesus — and to which most people don’t give a second thought.  There are all these different ways of going at this issue.

However, today I want to take an approach I haven’t taken before.  It came to me while I was recently teaching a marriage preparation class for a couple in my church.  We were discussing healthy communication in marriage.  I pointed out what Scripture says in Ephesians 5, where the Holy Spirit draws a parallel between human marriage and the relationship between Christ and his church.  The thing that stood out to me is that Christ is clearly said to have a relationship with his church.  That relationship is spoken of in marital terms.  How absurd it would be for a human marriage to see one spouse being forbidden to speak with the other!  Imagine a human marriage where the husband can speak to the wife, but the wife is not allowed to answer and communicate with her husband.  Yet that’s what we’re left with when we’re told that the church of Jesus Christ may not pray to him.  We have a relationship where the communication can only go one way.  What healthy relationship only has one-way communication?  We realize that healthy relationships see communication going both ways.  If the church really does have a relationship with Jesus Christ, and if that relationship parallels human marriage, shouldn’t it be expected that the church would pray to Jesus?

As mentioned above, it is not only wrong to conclude otherwise, it is also harmful.  Think about it.  If we cannot communicate with him, how can we really have a relationship with him?  How can we live in union with someone with whom we’re not even allowed to speak?  How can we avoid the danger of turning the person of our beloved Saviour into a theological concept to be analyzed or argued rather than someone to be loved and cherished?  I posit that the challenge of real spiritual vitality goes up exponentially in Reformed communities where they are taught (and then believe) that they may not pray to Jesus.

So, yes, I do pray to my Lord Jesus from time to time.  I don’t pray to him all the time.  Most of the time I pray to the Triune God as my Father.  But I’m taught in Scripture that prayer to my Saviour is also appropriate at times.  I may pray to him in my personal prayers.  I may sometimes also address him when I lead congregational prayer — this is especially if a sermon has been on a text explicitly unfolding some aspect of his person or work (as an example, see the prayer at the end of this sermon).  Through the Word of God, the Holy Spirit allows me this privilege of being in a relationship with the Son of God where I may freely speak with him.  He allows you that privilege too and don’t let anyone take that away from you.  Don’t let your conscience be bound by human laws.