Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Giving Your Kids G-Rated Answers on R-Rated Issues

Today I received an e-mail from a lady in our congregation.  The subject heading was: "Explaining Incest to Girls."  Oh, boy.  I knew this was going to be a doozy.  This mother of two girls, ages 6 and 4, proceeded to ask,
Any pointers on how to best explain how Lot's daughters conceived without being married?  [Both my girls] asked today and I have no idea where to start with that one.  They are quite aware of how babies come out, but not how they get in.  They are not making the connection that Lot fathered his (grand)kids, and I'm at a loss as to how to explain it in a G-rated fashion.
The portion of Scripture to which this mother is referring is Genesis 19:30-36:
Now Lot went up out of Zoar and lived in the hills with his two daughters, for he was afraid to live in Zoar. So he lived in a cave with his two daughters.  And the firstborn said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of all the earth.  Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.”  So they made their father drink wine that night. And the firstborn went in and lay with her father. He did not know when she lay down or when she arose.
Seeing I had only a few minutes to respond to this mother's query before my next meeting, I replied as follows:
Dear _____________,
Wow, that's a tough one, only because your girls are so young.  However, if they understand how babies come out, that's a start.  For instance, do you refer to that as their "private part"?  If so, you could say that boys/men have their "private part" too, and it is different from girls/women.  You could take them back to Genesis 2:24, how "the man and his wife [Adam and Eve] were both naked and not ashamed."  Explain that God made the love between a man and his wife special -- that they can show deep love and affection for each other by being naked together and holding each other close.  They become, as it were, "one flesh."  When a husband and his wife come together in this way, their private parts are connected, and this is how children are made.
You can tell them that this kind of affection is only for a husband and wife.  For it to happen with any other person besides one's spouse is sin -- a violation of God's holy Word.  So in discussing the story of Lot, you can tell them that at least two sins occurred: (1) Lot allowed himself to get drunk, which is a sin - see Ephesians 5:18, and (2) Lot's daughters snuck into their father Lot's bed while he was passed out from being drunk, and they got naked with him and made their private parts touch.  That's how they ended up having children.  But because Lot was their father and not their husband, this was a terrible sin against God and against one another.  
Perhaps you can conclude by thanking God for your family, that Daddy and Mommy love each other in this special way, and that's how we had you.  Daddy and Mommy love you, too, but in a different way.  This pleases God and helps us to have a happy home.
Of course you can tailor this answer to best suit your children, since you know them better than anyone else.  But I think this is the general direction that I would go.
If I can be of further help, please let me know.  Also, I'd love to hear how things turn out (i.e. how your girls respond once you talk to them about this).
Pastor Matt
After reading my response, this mother expressed her appreciation and recommended that I post this piece of correspondence on my blog site for the purpose of helping other parents that may come across similar issues.

Having done this, I would like to add a few closing thoughts:
  1. The Bible is not a book of G-rated children's stories.  Scripture presents sin in all its vileness, ugliness and filth.  Even the best "heroes of the faith" are flawed and in need of redemption.
  2. When coming across "R-rated" topics in Scripture, don't skip over them, ignore them, or present them as something less or different than what they really are.  Remember, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16).
  3. The last point notwithstanding, use tact when teaching your children.  Be discerning.  After all, there are both "meat" and "milk" appetites when it comes to Scripture.  "Solid food is for the mature" (Heb. 5:14; cf. 1 Cor. 3:1-2).  Don't give your kids more than they can handle at their level of maturity.  Pray for wisdom (James 1:5) and respond accordingly.
  4. Make a beeline from the text to the gospel.  Remember, the Bible is a book about the salvation of God's people through Jesus Christ his Son.  Therefore, as John Calvin said, "The scriptures should be read with the aim of finding Christ in them."  When you encounter any text, ask yourself, "What is the road that leads to Christ?"  Take your child down that road.
I wish I would have taken an extra moment in my e-mail to follow through on that fourth point.  It is so important.  It's not enough to know the stories of the Bible; you've got to be able to connect the dots and see Christ at the heart of it all.  Around Christmas, I came across a terrific summary of the story-line of the Bible.  I have found it to be a tremendous resource.  To read it, click here.

Parents have the weighty responsibility and glorious privilege of teaching their children the Word of God.  Though biblical issues can can be incredibly challenging at times, let us resolve: 
We will not hide them from [our] children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done . . . that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments. - Psalm 78:4, 6-7

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Divine Regret

"I the LORD do not change" (Malachi 3:6).  In this text God affirms his unchangeableness, or immutability.  This divine attribute is affirmed elsewhere in Scripture (see Psalms 33:11; 102:25-27; Isaiah 46:9-11; Numbers 23:19; James 1:17).

Several years ago, after our family had suffered through a difficult stretch of church ministry, the elders granted us a six-week sabbatical.  At the time, we weren't sure if we would even stay on at the church.  The elders wanted us to (and, as it turned out, so did the vast majority of the congregation).  But we weren't sure if we could or should continue serving in that context.  However, after a lot of Scripture reading, praying, and heart-searching, we concluded that the Lord wanted us to stay and serve.  But we were a bit squeamish about what awaited us when we got back.  As we talked about this, Ruthie reassured me, saying, "God is the same God that he was six weeks ago."  That truth strengthened our resolve and kept our hand to the plow.  Despite whatever changes awaited us, God was--and would continue to be--our one true Constant.

Was our trust misplaced?  Did our faith have firm footing?  Is God really immutable, or does he actually change his mind?  Verses like Genesis 6:6-7 seem to indicate that he does:
And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.  So the LORD said, "I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them."
Additional texts which indicate repentance or regret on God's part are Exodus 32:141 Samuel 15:11, 29; Jeremiah 26:3.  What are we to make of these texts?  Do we have cause for concern when it comes to God's constancy and thus his dependability?

In a word, no.  We need not doubt the Lord's reliability, which is rooted in his immutability.  Reassurance comes as we cut Scripture straight (2 Timothy 2:15).  Every word of God is inerrant and important.  The Hebrew root behind all the above references to God's "repentance" or "regret"is nacham, which carries the idea of "breathing or sighing deeply."  The term suggests a display of one's feelings -- sorrow, compassion or comfort.  This Hebrew root is reflected in such names as Nehemiah ("comfort of Yahweh") and Nahum (a shortened form of Nehemiah).

When Scripture speaks of God's "repentance" or "regret," the point is not that God has changed in terms of his character or essential nature.  Rather the idea is that God's feelings toward, and dealings with, certain people change in response to some change on their part.  With this in mind, let's look again at Genesis 6:6 in light of its context:
  • Genesis 6:5 says, "The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually."  This is radically different from Genesis 1, where we read that "God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good..." (v. 31). 
  • What was it that changed God's outlook?  Sin!  Sin is viewed not as mere imperfection, but as something hostile to God's person and holy purposes.  Sin is intensely personal ("the thoughts of [man's] heart").  Sin is pervasive (every intention of his heart was only evil continually"), i.e. everything man does is contaminated by sin.  Sin is perpetual ("only evil continually").
  • Hence the change on man's part (from good to evil) resulted in a change on God's part, in terms of his feelings and his dealings.
Here we see the importance of cutting Scripture straight, being as precise and accurate as possible in our understanding of God.  We see such precision in theologian Wayne Grudem's definition of God's unchangeableness (immutability):  "God is unchanging in his being, perfections, purposes, and promises, yet God does act and feel emotions, and he acts and feels differently in response to different situations" (Systematic Theology, p. 163).   That is worth reading over a few times, even memorizing, for the sake of gaining an accurate understanding of God's immutability - what it means and what it does not mean.

The Lord in his infinite wisdom understands the limited capabilities of the human mind and how we might tend to question one scriptural truth in light of another.  So in passages which indicate a change in God's feelings or dealings with man, we find also in that same context a reaffirmation of God's immutability.  For instance, God says in 1 Samuel 15:11, "I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments."  (Notice how God's feelings changed in response to how Saul had changed.)  Yet later on in that same chapter, after the Lord rejected Saul from being king, Scripture declares that "the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man that he should have regret."  So did the Lord have regret (v. 11) or didn't he (v. 29)?  The answer is that the Lord did have regret in the sense that he was saddened by Saul's disobedience and subsequently rejected him as king.  Yet the Lord did not change or have regret in terms of his holy character, sovereign plan, and eternal purposes for Israel.  To quote Grudem again, 
These instances [of divine regret] should all be understood as true expressions of God's present attitude or intention with respect to the situation as it exists at that moment.  If the situation changes, then of course God's attitude or expression of intention will also change.  This is just saying that God responds differently to different situations.
To cite one more example, God had planned to destroy the city of Nineveh on account of its wickedness and sent Jonah to tell them so.  But when Jonah finally did so, the people repented of their sin.  "When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God repented of the evil which he had said he would do to them; and he did not do it" (Jonah 3:10).  God's character and holy purposes experienced no change, but his short-term plan did in response to the situation as it existed at that particular moment.

A right understanding of God's unchangeableness brings reassurance to us as believers and strengthens our faith.  Furthermore, the doctrine of divine immutability causes us to rejoice over our God who is not only sovereign over us but is also personally involved with us.  

Praise to the Lord, who o'er all things so wondrously reigneth,
Shelters thee under His wings, yea, so gently sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen how thy desires e'er have been
Granted in what He ordaineth?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Surprise Poem - a Special Gift

This past summer our whole family headed south for vacation.  We got to spend some time with our extended family in South Carolina.  Our first night there we had a great cook-out with our Uncle Jack and Aunt Mary Jane, who are committed Christians.  It was a bit rainy that night, and I held an umbrella over Uncle Jack as he grilled the hotdogs and hamburgers.  We had a great time.

Little did I know that less than two weeks later, dear Uncle Jack would be in heaven.  
This past week, we received a Christmas letter from Aunt Mary Jane that included the following introductory note and poem:
Dear Family and Friends,
After Jack went to be with the Lord, in our safe I found this poem with a request I copy it and give it to our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren his first Christmas in heaven.  It was dated Sept. 8, 1998 -- over fourteen years ago.  He was anticipating heaven before he went!  Though he is greatly missed, it's a comfort to know he's happier than he's ever been!
I've had my first Christmas in heaven
A glorious, wonderful day.
I stood with the saints of all ages,
Who found Christ the Truth and the Way.
I sang with the heavenly choir,
Just think, I who loved so to sing,
And oh, what celestial music
We brought to our Savior and King.
We sang the glad songs of redemption,
How Jesus to Bethlehem came,
And how they had called his name Jesus,
That all might be saved through His name.
We sang once again with the angels,
The song that they spoke that blest morn,
When shepherds first heard the glad story
That Jesus, the Savior, was born.
Oh dear ones, I wish you had been there,
No Christmas on earth could compare
With all the rapture and glory
We witnessed in heaven so fair.
You know how I always loved Christmas,
It seemed such a wonderful day,
With all my loved ones around me,
The children so happy and gay.
Yes, now I can see why I loved it,
And oh, what a joy it will be
When you and my loved ones are with me
To share the rich glories I see.
So, dear ones on earth, here are my greetings,
Look up till the day dawn appears
And oh, what a Christmas awaits us
Beyond our parting tears.

Uncle Jack's poem, along with Aunt Mary Jane's introductory note, tie in beautifully with some reading I did earlier this week.  In his book, Lost in the Middle, author Paul David Tripp directs the reader's attention to the reality of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:13-19) and the ultimate victory that we have in Christ because of it.  The apostle John gives us a glimpse of this in Revelation chapter five, which describes the magnificent scene in heaven with God's people gathered around His throne.  It is a scene of unprecedented celebration centered on God's redeeming, victorious work through Christ.

It is a celebration that never ends.  An eternal party.  A family reunion you never want to leave ... and won't.  It is God's kingdom come.

Here's the point, in the words of Paul Tripp:  
The only way you can make sense out of life is to look at it from the vantage point of eternity.  Eternity defines, motivates, and clarifies the life God has called us to.
... What is really worth celebrating?  What is really worth mourning?  Force yourself to use the values of eternity as your measuring tool for the here and now.
... Are you magnetized by eternity?  Can you see it in the distance and so keep marching forward?
... The bad news is that we will all weep our way into eternity. ... The good news is that you have been guaranteed a day when all of this will end.  What you will experience in eternity will far outweigh the pain you went through in the present.
Amen.  It will be worth it all when we see Jesus.  Life's trials will seem so small when we see Christ.  One glimpse of His dear face all sorrows will erase.  So let's bravely run the race till we see Christ.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A Wild, Romantic Undertaking

This provocative heading is the title of chapter ten in Courtney Anderson's book To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson, one of the best missionary biographies I have ever read.  It came to mind during our pastoral staff meeting this morning as we discussed the previous Sunday's sermon--specifically Jesus' reference to those who have "left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel" (Mark 10:29).

In a day when there were no such things as transoceanic flights, e-mail, Skype and cell phones, missionaries left their homelands never to return.  Farewells said to mothers, fathers, siblings, and close friends were permanent.  Sacrifices were made not only by the missionaries in leaving their families, but also by their families in letting them go.

Adoniram Judson was driven by God's call on his life to take the gospel to those who had never heard of Jesus Christ.  Yet he also felt his heart drawn to one Nancy Hasseltine, whom he began courting one month after he met her.  Their relationship deepened through correspondence, and eventually Adoniram asked Nancy's father in writing for her hand in marriage.  Adoniram did not mince his words.  He let Nancy's father know full well what giving his daughter to Adoniram in marriage would cost him:
I have now to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death.  Can you consent to all this, for the sake of him who left his heavenly home, and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God?  Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with the crown of righteousness, brightened with the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Saviour from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?
I wonder how many fathers would have granted their consent after reading such a letter.  In the case of Mr. Hasseltine, he left it to Nancy to make up her own mind.

She said yes -- not principally out of her love for Adoniram (as strong as her affection was), rather her consent stemmed from her devotion to the Lord and how she might best serve Him.  In a confidential letter to a friend named Lydia Kimball, Nancy wrote,
I feel willing, and expect, if nothing in providence prevents, to spend my days in this world in heathen lands.  Yes, Lydia, I have about come to the determination to give up all my comforts and enjoyments here, sacrifice my affection to relatives and friends, and go where God, in his providence, shall see fit to place me.
Nancy went on to affirm, "Nor were my determinations formed in consequence of an attachment to an earthly object; but with a sense of obligations to God, and with a full conviction of its being a call in providence, and consequently my duty."

Nancy became Adoniram's wife.  Two weeks after their wedding, on February 19, 1812, they set sail for India, and after a short stay there reached the golden shore of Burma (Myanmar).  As he predicted in his letter to Mr. Hasseltine, Adoniram and Nancy suffered much hardship.  They had three pregnacies.  The first one ended in a miscarriage.  Their son Roger died eight months after his birth, and their third child Maria died only six months after her mother's death.

Nancy died at age 36 of smallpox, having suffered through illness, the 17-month imprisonment of her husband, and a host of other hardships.  Upon hearing of his wife's death, Adoniram "began to weep, softly at first, later with hoarse, racking sobs. Finally, as the full, crushing weight of the letter's meaning descended upon him, he leaned forward over the writing table in front of him and pillowed his head on his arms" (To the Golden Shore, p. 371).

Nancy was the first Protestant to translate any of the Scriptures into Thai when in 1819 she translated the Gospel of Matthew.  She also translated the books of Daniel and Jonah into Burmese.  The fruit of her labors cannot in any way be quantified and will not be fully known till all the redeemed reach the Golden Shore of Heaven.

I pray that the Judsons' spiritual legacy would not be lost in our day but would inspire a new generation of individuals and couples to count all things as loss for the sake of the gospel.

O Zion, haste, thy mission high fulfilling,
to tell to all the world that God is light,
that he who made all nations is not willing
one soul should perish, lost in shades of night.

Publish glad tidings, tidings of peace;
tidings of Jesus, redemption and release.

Behold how many thousands still are lying
bound in the darksome prison-house of sin,
with none to tell them of the Savior's dying,
or of the life he died for them to win.

Proclaim to every people, tongue, and nation
that God, in whom they live and move, is love;
tell how he stooped to save his lost creation,
and died on earth that we might live above.

Give of thine own to bear the message glorious; 
give of thy wealth to speed them on their way;
pour out thy soul for them in prayer victorious;
And all thou spendest Jesus will repay.

- Mary A. Thompson

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Reformation Day!

If someone were to ask, "What comes to mind when you think of October 31?", probably 99.9% of Americans would say, "Halloween!"  Most do not realize that what makes October 31 especially significant is that it is also Reformation Day.  Here is a good summary of what this holiday is about, from the Monergism website:

Reformation Day is a religious holiday celebrated on October 31st or the last weekend in October in remembrance of the Reformation. Martin Luther posted a proposal at the doors of a church in Wittenberg, Germany to debate the doctrine and practice of indulgences. This proposal is popularly known as the 95 Theses, which he nailed to the Castle Church doors. This was not an act of defiance or provocation as is sometimes thought. Since the Castle Church faced Wittenberg's main thoroughfare, the church door functioned as a public bulletin board and was therefore the logical place for posting important notices. Also, the theses were written in Latin, the language of the church, and not in the vernacular. Nonetheless, the event created a controversy between Luther and those allied with the Pope over a variety of doctrines and practices. While it had profound and lasting impacts on the political, economic, social, literary, and artistic aspects of modern society, the Reformation was at its heart a religious movement. The Reformation was the great rediscovery of the good news of salvation by grace through faith for Christ's sake. For centuries, the Roman Catholic Church had been plagued by false doctrines, superstition, ignorance, and corruption. Since most ordinary Christians were illiterate and had little knowledge of the Bible, they relied on their clergy for religious instruction and guidance. Tragically however, monks, priests, bishops, and even the popes in Rome taught unbiblical doctrines like purgatory and salvation through good works. Spiritually earnest people tried to justify themselves by charitable works, pilgrimages, and all kinds of religious performances and devotions, but they were left wondering if they had done enough to escape God's anger and punishment. The truth of the gospel -- the good news that God is loving and merciful, that He offers each and every one of us forgiveness and salvation not because of what we do, but because of what Christ has already done for us -- was largely forgotten by both clergy and laity. The Holy Spirit used an Augustinian monk and university professor named Martin Luther to restore the gospel to its rightful place as the cornerstone doctrine of Christianity. Martin Luther and his colleagues came to understand that if we sinners had to earn salvation by our own merits and good works, we would be lost and completely without hope. But through the working of the Holy Spirit, the reformers rediscovered the gospel -- the wonderful news that Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again to redeem and justify us. As Luther wrote in his explanation of the Second Article of the Apostles' Creed: I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true. On Reformation Day, we glorify God for what he accomplished in 16th century Germany through His servant, Dr. Martin Luther -- the recovery of the gospel of salvation by grace through faith for Christ's sake. We also earnestly pray that God would keep all of us faithful to the true gospel and help us to joyfully declare it to the world. This lovely hymn verse encapsulates the theme of our Reformation celebration:

    By grace God's Son, our only Savior,
      Came down to earth to bear our sin.
        Was it because of your own merit
          That Jesus died your soul to win?
            No, it was grace, and grace alone,
              It brought Him from His heav'nly throne.

            Thursday, September 27, 2012

            Expositors' Conference 2012

            This week I had the privilege of attending the sixth annual Expositors' Conference at Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama.  I've attended five out of the six conferences, missing only last year's event, as I was in my first month of ministry at Webster Bible Church and didn't feel right leaving for a conference just then.

            The first Expositors' Conference in 2007 and this year's conference featured two of my favorite preachers:  John MacArthur and Steve Lawson.  You can read their individual biographical sketches on  several websites, including their own respective churches (Grace Community Church and Christ Fellowship Baptist Church).  But I want to share just a word about how each of these men have ministered to me personally.

            I first became exposed to John MacArthur's ministry when someone gave me his landmark book The Gospel According to Jesus.  I was in Bible college when this was published, and it rocked my world.  I came to see from Scripture the implications of Jesus' lordship over my life -- what Jesus really meant when He said, "Follow me."  Since reading that book, I've come to appreciate just about every other book and commentary written by John MacArthur.  He is a faithful, accurate, uncompromising teacher of God's truth.  My guess is that, if the Lord tarries, John MacArthur will be one of the leading figures of church history in this generation (along with R. C. Sproul and John Piper).  I truly thank God for the impact this man has had on my life.  All things considered, John MacArthur is probably my favorite living Bible teacher.

            Steve Lawson was the other keynote speaker of the 2012 Expositors' Conference.  In fact, Steve Lawson is always one of the two keynote speakers at this conference, for he is the host pastor and a very popular preacher himself, speaking at major events such as the Shepherds' Conference and the Ligonier Conference, which are attended by thousands each year.  I first met Steve at the 2006 Shepherds' Conference.  I'll never forget his sermon on Nehemiah 8.  After hearing it, I turned to one of my friends and said, "I've never  preached a sermon in my life."  That's how I felt after listening to the passionate preaching of Dr. Lawson.  In the spring of 2007 he visited New England to speak at a conference and to do research on George Whitefield.  I was blessed to spend several days with Steve and to have him preach at First Baptist Church in Weymouth, where I pastored (1999-2011).  Since then we have enjoyed a friendship built on our love for the Lord, our commitment to his truth, our passion for preaching, and our heart for the local church (plus a common sense of humor!).

            At conferences such as this, relationships are formed with like-minded brothers and sisters in Christ -- friendships that will last throughout eternity.  The idea of worshiping God together free from any taint of sin, and full of sincere love for God and one another, keeps me encouraged on the more mundane and doleful days of ministry.  It also reminds me of how important it is to keep sharing the Good News, so that others can join the ranks of the redeemed, and bask in the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.

            Wednesday, September 19, 2012

            "Take Heed How You Hear!"

            The following article was originally posted on TruthWalk in November of 2007.  Every now and then we could all use a refresher on these practical tips on hearing God's Word, which is why I'm reposting them today.

            In his devotional book, Taste and See, pastor-theologian John Piper lists what he calls "ten practical suggestions for hearing the Word of God on Sunday morning." This is based on his meditation of Luke 8:18: "Take heed then how you hear; for to him who has will more be given, and from him who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away." With this verse in mind, Piper offers the following tips:

            1. Pray that God would give you a good and honest heart.
            The heart we need is a work of God. That’s why we pray for it. "I will give you a new heart" (Ezek. 36:26). "I will give them a heart to know Me" (Jer. 24:7). Let’s pray, "O Lord, give me a heart for you. Give me a good and honest heart. Give me a soft and receptive heart. Give me a humble and meek heart. Give me a fruitful heart."

            2. Meditate on the Word of God.
            "Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good" (Psalm 34:8). On Saturday night, read some delicious portion of your Bible with a view to stirring up hunger for God. This is the appetizer for Sunday morning’s meal.

            3. Purify your mind by turning away from worldly entertainment.
            "Putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which I able to save your souls" (James 1:21, emphasis added). It astonishes me how many Christians watch the same banal, empty, silly, trivial, titillating, suggestive, immodest TV shows that most unbelievers watch. This makes us small and weak and worldly and inauthentic in worship. Instead, turn off the television on Saturday night and read something true and great and beautiful and pure and honorable and excellent and worthy of praise (Phil. 4:8). Your heart will unshrivel and be able to feel greatness again.

            4. Trust in the truth you already have.
            The hearing of the Word of God that fails during trial has no root (Luke 8:13). What is the root we need? It is trust. Jeremiah 17:7-8 says, "Blessed is the man who trustsin the LORD, and whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream" (emphasis added).

            5. Rest long enough Saturday night to be alert and hopeful Sunday morning.
            "All things are lawful for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything" (1 Cor. 6:12,RSV). I am not laying down any law here. I am saying there are Saturday night ways that ruin Sunday morning worship. Don’t be enslaved by them. Without sufficient sleep, our minds are dull, our emotions are flat, our proneness to depression is higher, and our fuses are short. My counsel: Decide when you must get up on Sunday in order to have time to eat, get dressed, pray and meditate on the Word, prepare the family, and travel to church; and then compute backward eight hours and be sure that you are in bed fifteen minutes before that. Read your Bible in bed and fall asleep with the Word of God in your mind. I especially exhort parents to teach teenagers that Saturday night is not the night to stay out late with friends. If there is a special late night, make it Friday. It is a terrible thing to teach children that worship is so optional that it doesn’t matter if you are exhausted when you come.

            6. Forbear one another Sunday morning without grumbling and criticism.
            "They grumbled in their tents; they did not listen to the voice of the LORD" (Psalm 106:25). Sunday morning grumbling and controversy and quarreling can ruin a worship service for a family. When there is something you are angry about or some conflict that you genuinely think needs to be talked about, forbear. Of course if youare clearly the problem and need to apologize, do it as quickly as you can (Matt. 5:23-24). But if you are fuming because of the children’s or spouse’s delinquency, forbear, that is, be slow to anger and quick to listen (James 1:19). In worship, open yourself to God’s exposing the log in your own eye. It may be that all of you will be humbled and chastened so that no serious conflict is necessary.

            7. Be meek and teachable when you come.
            "Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls" (James 1:21, RSV). Meekness and teachability are not gullibility. You have your Bibles and you have your brain. Use them. But if we come with a chip on our shoulders and a suspicion of the preaching, week after week, we will not hear the Word of God. Meekness is a humble openness to God’s truth with a longing to be changed by it.

            8. Be still and enter the room and focus your mind’s attention and heart’s affection on God.
            "Be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10, NKJV). As we enter the sanctuary, let us come on the lookout for God, and leave on the lookout for people. Come with a quiet passion to seek God and his power. We will not be an unfriendly church if we are aggressive in our pursuit of God during the prelude and aggressive in our pursuit of visitors during the postlude.

            9. Think earnestly about what is sung and prayed and preached.
            "Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in yourthinking be mature" (1 Cor. 14:20, emphasis added). So Paul says to Timothy, "Think over what I say, for the Lord will grant you understanding in everything" (2 Timothy 2:7, RSV, emphasis added). Anything worth hearing is worth thinking about. If you would heed how you hear, think about what you hear.

            10. Desire the truth of God’s Word more than you desire riches or food.
            "Like newborn babies, long for [desire] the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation" (1 Peter 2:2, author’s translation). As you sit quietly and pray and meditate on the text and the songs, remind yourself of what Psalm 19:10-11 says about the words of God: "More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb."