Obedience for Life

kidsalute“Right away. All the way. With Respect.” I’m not sure how many times my children have heard those sentences. Where do they come from? Pastor Robbins has his own phraseology, “Prompt, complete, and joyful.” Either way, the Scriptures abound with illustrations and instruction on obedience. And a few highlight just how much weight God gives to how His people obey.

Right Away:

Ecclesiastes 5:4 is jarring in its assessment of those who don’t follow through when they should: “When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow.” The double condemnation hits hard. First God has no pleasure in the foot-dragger, and second, the foot-dragger is called a “fool”. That God is more than disappointed with those who don’t keep their word is obvious. That God called them “fools” is worth considering further. They are fools because delaying obedience gives no pleasure to anyone. Everyone suffers because of it, especially the delayer. The commitment or instruction doesn’t go away. The delayer has only made it more painful by making it take longer and increasing the consequences in being sluggish to follow through.

All the Way:

No example of incomplete obedience seems more compelling than what we find in the life of King Saul. In 1 Samuel 15 God commanded Saul to devote to destruction all the Amalekites. God had sentenced them to death for their capital crimes (a down payment on His judgment on all sin) and yet Saul and the people spared the King Agag and the best of the livestock. They only destroyed what was despised and worthless. God’s response indicates what he thinks of incomplete obedience: “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments” (1 Sa 15:11). Partial obedience is not obedience. Partial obedience does not merit reward. Yes, jobs may be different. Sometimes there may be a limited capability, or time, or opportunity to get work done. But the ordinary assumption with obedience is that the one being asked is competent to obey completely. The partial-obeyer doesn’t just come up short. He rebels.

With Respect:

Respecting or honoring the one in authority has obvious implications. Paul turned to the fifth commandment to make his point to children: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.‘” (Eph 6:1–3). The promise of life is surely valuable. One of my favorite Proverbs, Proverbs 30:17, graphically shows the opposite: “The eye that mocks a father and scorns to obey a mother will be picked out by the ravens of the valley and eaten by the vultures.” Kind of elevates the importance of honoring your parents, doesn’t it? Perhaps the reason God elevates respect in obedience is because a wrong attitude in obedience is a practical form of atheism. By it adult or child denies that God is watching and that He sees not only the outward actions but the heart as well.

As much as these things are measurable, and generally they are, parents need to observe and discipline with respect to both that and how children obey. Neglecting the “how” of obedience puts a child on a bad footing for life, but more importantly, in puts him in grave spiritual danger. It’s no little consequence to be a “fool” before God, to have Him regret His calling you, or to have your life cut short by God because of your sin. So if you’re a parent, and you’ve been overlooking delay, deficiency, and dishonor, then repent, and not just for your own benefit, but for the love of your child as well.

What Is Calvinism

Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield (1851-1921) was a giant among Presbyterian theologians. He taught a generation of ministers at Princeton Seminary. A cultured aristocrat, Warfield was a brilliant Renaissance man who wrote on a wide variety of subjects. The story of his tender care for his invalid wife is worthy of a book or two. Warfield was at his best when writing on the doctrine of Scripture (“The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible”), or the cessation of revelation (“Counterfeit Miracles”), or the person & work of Christ (“The Lord of Glory”) or our redemption (“The Plan of Salvation”). Below is part of a marvelous and brief essay on Calvinism.

WarfieldIt is very odd how difficult it seems for some persons to understand just what Calvinism is. And yet the matter itself presents no difficulty whatever. It is capable of being put into a single sentence; and that, one level to every religious man’s comprehension. For Calvinism is just religion in its purity. We have only, therefore, to conceive of religion in its purity, and that is Calvinism.

In what attitude of mind and heart does religion come most fully to its rights? Is it not in the attitude of prayer? When we kneel before God, not with the body merely, but with the mind and heart, we have assumed the attitude which above all others deserves the name of religious. And this religious attitude by way of eminence is obviously just the attitude of utter dependence and humble trust. He who comes to God in prayer, comes not in a spirit of self-assertion, but in a spirit of trustful dependence. No one ever addressed God in prayer thus: “O God, thou knowest that I am the architect of my own fortunes and the determiner of my own destiny. Thou mayest indeed do something to help me in the securing of my purposes after I have determined upon them. But my heart is my own, and thou canst not intrude into it; my will is my own, and thou canst not bend it. When I wish thy aid, I will call on thee for it. Meanwhile, thou must await my pleasure.” Men may reason somewhat like this; but that is not the way they pray. There did, indeed, once two men go up into the temple to pray. And one stood and prayed thus to himself (can it be that this “to himself” has a deeper significance than appears on the surface?), “God, I thank thee that I am not as the rest of men.” While the other smote his breast, and said, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Even the former acknowledged a certain dependence on God; for he thanked God for his virtues. But we are not left in doubt in which one the religious mood was most purely exhibited. There is One who has told us that with clearness and emphasis.

All men assume the religious attitude, then, when they pray. But many men box up, as it were, this attitude in their prayer, and shutting it off from their lives with the “Amen”, rise from their knees to assume a totally different attitude, if not of heart, then at least of mind. They pray as if they were dependent on God’s mercy alone; they reason–perhaps they even live–as if God, in some of his activities at least, were dependent on them. The Calvinist is the man who is determined to preserve the attitude he takes in prayer in all his thinking, in all his feeling, in all his doing. That is to say, he is the man who is determined that religion in its purity shall come to its full rights in his thinking, and feeling, and living. This is the ground of his special mode of thought, by reason of which he is called a Calvinist; and as well of his special mode of acting in the world, by reason of which he has become the greatest regenerating force in the world. Other men are Calvinists on their knees; the Calvinist is the man who is determined that his intellect, and heart, and will shall remain on their knees continually, and only from this attitude think, and feel, and act. Calvinism is, therefore, that type of thought in which there comes to its rights the truly religious attitude of utter dependence on God and humble trust in his mercy alone for salvation.

There are at bottom but two types of religious thought in the world–if we may improperly use the term “religious” for both of them. There is the religion of faith; there is the “religion” of works. Calvinism is the pure embodiment of the former of these; what is known in Church History as Pelagianism is the pure embodiment of the latter of them. All other forms of “religious” teaching which have been known in Christendom are but unstable attempts at compromise between the two. At the opening of the fifth century, the two fundamental types came into direct conflict in remarkably pure form as embodied in the two persons of Augustine and Pelagius. Both were expending themselves in seeking to better the lives of men. But Pelagius in his exhortations threw men back on themselves; they were able, he declared, to do all that God demanded of them–otherwise God would not have demanded it. Augustine on the contrary pointed them in their weakness to God; “He himself,” he said, in his pregnant speech, “He himself is our power.” The one is the “religion” of proud self-dependence; the other is the religion of dependence on God. The one is the “religion” of works; the other is the religion of faith. The one is not “religion” at all–it is mere moralism; the other is all that is in the world that deserves to be called religion. Just in proportion as this attitude of faith is present in our thought, feeling, life, are we religious. When it becomes regnant in our thought, feeling, life, then are we truly religious. Calvinism is that type of thinking in which it has become regnant.

From Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, vol. 1, Edited by John E. Meeter, published by Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1970. Originally from The Presbyterian, March 2, 1904, pp. 6-7.

Summer Camp: Seven Reasons to Say Yes


Summer Camp? How do you know if he’s ready? What about all the people who’ll be there that we don’t know ? What if some older boy goes after my precious baby? Will our little girl make any friends? Over the years I’ve answered a lot of questions about summer camps. And parents of junior high, and for that matter, senior high students, do well to be concerned about what happens at summer camp. But that doesn’t mean they do well in not sending their child. Here are seven reasons to feel good about sending your child to summer camp. And if now is not the time for your son or daughter, here are seven reasons that you’ll want to think hard about getting your child to a summer camp someday:

The first is Christian education. The same reason you send your child to a Sunday School or Catechism class is the reason you send them to Christian camps and conferences. You want them to be taught in the word. Ask your pastor if the word is going to be taught. Will the teacher be responsible with the word of God? Can my child learn something from him? If so you have a motivation of the same kind for sending them to Sunday School. They get taught the same word by someone else. Having many counselors is a safer place (Pr 11:4)

The second is maturity. There’s a reason we start doing camps and conferences for the children when they hit age about age 12. This is the time where very clearly Jesus could be left alone (Luke 2:42). His parents may not have seen it, but He was ready. And though kids are at various places on the spectrum, it’s fairly typical that kids will start to develop an identity formed independent of the their parents about this time in life. They’re maturing, deciding their own tastes, and expressing preferences. Pastor-led, away-from-parent trips are a good environment for them to stretch their wings and especially to begin to take ownership of their own faith (Col 1:28).

The third is connecting. Our kids, like their parents, are social creatures. They were made for relationships. When we go to camps and conferences with other churches, our kids are broadening their pool of friends and relationships, but at the same time keeping it in the family (Eph 2:19–22). At our camps, we’re among the covenant community. While not all are regenerate, they are those being raised in the faith. It’s a bigger version of the local church. And these young people are by and large going to be same people who will populate the adult membership of our churches one day. They’re meeting future college roommates, deacons, presbyters, and spouses. All right there. They just don’t know it yet.

The fourth reason you want your child at camp…difficulties. What? That’s not a selling point, right? Actually it is. Your goal for your child is not to arrive at the age of 25 in pristine condition. They already missed on that count (Ps 51:50). They’re already spoiled and corrupted on the inside. What you want for them is to arrive at adulthood sanctified. Sanctification is a process that comes through pain (Rom 5:1-50). Camp is full of splinters and spats, blisters and bad food, cattiness and cramps. They all hurt and have to be dealt with, resolved, endured, and learned from. And on the other side, with the Holy Spirit, shepherding, parenting, and prayer, they are better, stronger, wiser, and more Christ-like. We’re not called to avoid that kind of pain, but to give thanks for it (James 1:2-4).

The fifth is independence. Certainly different children are ready for independence at different times and an individual child will be ready for independence in one area but not another. But parents need to remember this: God has made your child to grow toward independence. The goal for every believer is to be that “tree planted by streams of water” whose roots reach out to find the water source (Ps 1:3). They don’t need all their water brought to them. Having mom and dad out of reach and at least a couple of hours away is one of those hard but good things.

The sixth is perspective. When you join with other Christians from other churches you get different perspectives. Some worse and some better. But in either case, because some things might be done differently, camp creates an opportunity for self-examination and deepening of understanding (Rom 14:4). “Why don’t we sing that song when we worship?” There’s an answer for that question. Wouldn’t you rather your child ask it at home, while they’re living at home, than for them to have no idea later why we do what we do?

Seventh is memories. Yes, happy memories are a great blessing when it comes to the church. Our good memories can haunt us as much as bad memories (Lam 1:7). Over the years, I’ve had plenty of people tell me that their happiest memories were in the church and they couldn’t get away from that fact. It convicted them that the pleasure-seeking life they were presently living wasn’t competing well with the warm memories with their believing friends in the body of Christ from days past. Our summer student rituals have more than a few things in common with Old Testament feasts. They have a way of sticking with you, and most often for the good, and even the bad experiences can get better with time.

Last year, at Junior High camp, we did something new. We went off the reservation, went for a waterfall hike in uncharted territory, and got hit by mountain gully-washer that threatened us with hypothermia in late July. We all lived. And then we went to a Chinese buffet. Some kids ate octopus. We lived through that too. And we look back fondly and tell our war story. But that’s part of us now, with the friends, and teaching, and place, and knowledge that we can do hard things.

I make no guarantees. Camp itself is a living thing. Of course we work hard (very hard) at safety and having quality teaching. But each camp has its own unique personality. Because of the varied persons that comprise it, the weather that besets it, the pastors that preach to it, and the leaders that organize it, how could it be completely safe or the same? But the vast majority of our kids navigate it very well and come back better for it: challenged, strengthened, and yes, on many occasions, converted to faith in Christ. That should come as no surprise. They’ve been taken out of their routine, they’ve heard the Gospel preached, and they’ve had to hear it for themselves. Who wouldn’t want that for their child?

∗ – By uncharted I simply mean, this was our first time to do it.

For more insights into our camps, check out our friends at:

Is Your Bible Reliable?

Michael KrugerI recently heard a lecture by Michael Kruger (President of RTS Charlotte and yes, husband of our WRPC ladies conference speaker!) that I found very helpful and interesting. Just to try to entice you to listen, let me list some of the questions he addresses dealing with modern attacks on the Bible:

Is Constantine the one who forced the canon on the church?
Was the NT in disarray for centuries?
Are there contradictions in the Bible?
Is the Bible historically accurate?
What about the gospel of Thomas?
Were the Gospels forged?
Has the Bible been changed over and over in time?
The Bible variants in textual variants number over 200,000 – is that a problem?
Does the Bible ask people to do things that are immoral?
What do we do with Mark 16?
What about the missing letters of Paul?
How do we know that the Bible is the Word of God?
Why does the Bible have genealogies?
Was God justified in taking the lives of the Canaanites?

The link below will get you to the lecture. Enjoy!!

Kruger Lecture

Why Go to Church This Sunday?

One of the greatest of the 19th century Presbyterians was William Swan Plumer (1802-1880). Dr. Plumer pastored several churches from Virginia to Pennsylvania and served as a beloved professor at multiple reformed seminaries. He authored commentaries on Hebrews, Romans, Psalms and dozens of other books. He is best known for making complex doctrines simple and understandable to laymen and even children. Like all Presbyterians, Plumer was a lover of the whole Lord’s Day and often wrote and preached about the sanctity of the Sabbath. Below is a delightful excerpt from his widely circulated sermon “The Law of the Sabbath Still Binding”.

To there let me go, with willing feet, on the morning and evening of every Sabbath; to there a sense of guilt should urge me; to there the hope of mercy should draw me; there God the Father waits to be gracious; there God the Son exhibits his atoning blood, and God the Holy Ghost his sanctifying grace. With so much sin to confess, with so many mercies to acknowledge, with such darkness in my mind, and such hardness in my hearts, how can I absent myself from the Lord’s house on the Lord’s day! There a crucified Saviour holds forth wisdom to the ignorant, strength to the weak, comfort to the broken-hearted, pardon to the penitent, and salvation to the lost.

How can I answer it to my conscience now – how shall I justify it at the last day, if I stay away from this holy place, and deprive myself of these spiritual blessings, in order to write my letters, to settle my accounts, to pay my visits, or to travel about either on business or pleasure? What account is there of so much moment as the state of my never-dying soul? What business so important as seeking peace with God? What pleasure should be so delightful as singing his praises who bought me with his blood?

Besides, who can tell whether more Sabbaths are reserved for me in this world. Perhaps the next may be my last, and I may never again hear the glad tidings of salvation through Jesus Christ. And shall I then dare to stay away from public worship, with death and judgment at hand, with heaven or hell before me? Shall I let some trifling excuse, which I should be ashamed to make to any worthy friend, deprive me of the only remaining opportunity of meeting God in his own house? O what would many a soul give, one hour after death, for the Sabbaths and sermons that are now so slighted!

Is it too often to go twice to a place of worship on the Sabbath-day, to wait on that God who gives me every day of my life? Who knows, if I absent myself morning or evening from divine service, but I may lose the benefit of some precious message peculiarly adapted to me? Who knows but the minister may be commissioned to speak a word suited to my case; some Scripture truth that may melt my heart; some affecting view of the Saviour, that may endear him to my soul?

Plants & Children: The Downside of Too Much Help

Trees & Water

I’ve been landscaping lately. My wife and I started a modest outdoor project, which created a critically necessary project, which mandated some expenditures, which finally justified a few more expenditures to get it done right. But, at the end of it all, we have a problem we’ve never really had before…a nice looking backyard. It’s a problem because now I’m studying, fretting over, and attempting to maintain what I never had before, desirable plants. Come to find out, they are more persnickety than the weed crop I used to cultivate. There are actually things they need and need to avoid. And one of the things I’m beginning to appreciate is that plants don’t like too much water. Upon reflection that analogy suits many parents.

Continue reading →

Counseling and the Westminster Confession of Faith

As a pastor who counsels, I have developed a list of resources that I have found helpful. Some might be predictable: articles and journals from Christian counselors or counseling groups, books on specific counseling issues and others. But one of the resources might come as a surprise – the Westminster Confession of Faith (and related Larger and Shorter Catechisms). What some might see as just a collection of Biblical doctrines for theologians, is actually a wonderful resource for counseling others and ourselves, as it succinctly communicating truths for us.

As the Lord provides opportunities, I would like to share with you how the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) addresses many of the issues that I encounter in counseling. Let’s begin. Let’s look at the first paragraph:

WCF 1.1  (1) Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation: therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and (2) to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; (3) those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.

When would I use this paragraph in counseling?

  • When I deal with someone who is an unbeliever. I will use this to show that they really do know about God but have suppressed the truth. I will also show how the Bible and the Bible alone is the only way to come to know how to be reconciled to God.
  • When I deal with a believer who does not value the necessity and benefits of regularly being in the Scripture. The Scriptures teach us the will of God, they preserve and propagate His truth and they establish and comfort the Church (believers) against the world, the flesh and the devil. This is the means of grace gifted to us by God – but we need to read it to know what He says!
  • For counselees who believe in continuing revelation, who insist that ‘God told me.’ I will point out that God no longer communicates through this means – choosing instead to reveal Himself through the Word. So in our counseling, we will not look to our feelings for His message to us, but to His Word.

Of course, the WCF lists Scriptures that can be employed as the final authority for what is written in the WCF and the counselor will want to look at these as well. The WCF is a tool only and should not be used as a primary source. More later!

A Few Motivations for Family Worship

Family worship is one of the forgotten relics of the Church’s better days. It’s only spoken of in a few small circles of the evangelical world. Why it’s missing in family life is maybe not surprising but it is disappointing. But there’s no reason that you can’t change right away. Here are three other motivations that every Christian home could agree with. Continue reading →