It is that time again when we spend a few moments reflecting on what we did this year and what we didn’t do. Sometimes we come to a new year with a wave of regret, wishing we would have done a few things differently. Sometimes we come to the new year with a spark of excitement, looking forward to what God has for us. Maybe it is a little bit of both. What have you thought about when it comes to 2016? What are some goals you have for you and your family with this new year?
Let me encourage you with the following thoughts.

  • Everything we do is for God’s glory.

The Bible says, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36 ESV). Everything we do in this life should point to the Creator. We were created so God could receive glory from us and through us.
This is way bigger than any accomplishment or goal we have in mind. In fact, through our goals and accomplishments we can give God glory. How do we do that? Through good works. Good works aren’t just sharing the gospel or going to church. Good works would be doing whatever we do in life and whatever we say to point to who God is and what He is all about. Our good works bring attention not to us but to the God who created us.

  • Our time is short.

Ephesians 5:15–17 reminds us to be careful how we live and to make the best use of our time because the days are evil. The Bible tells us that our life is like a vapor, here one moment and gone the next (James 4:14). If our goal is to do everything for God’s glory, then we do not want to waste our time on meaningless tasks. Part of using our time is knowing where it is going, (planning helps in this area), but we also need to think about where our time is not going.
Take a moment and reflect on how you spend your time. What areas can you grow in? Are you resting and getting enough sleep? What ways can you grow to be better with your time?

  • Heaven is our home.

We should not want to waste our time on earth doing meaningless things, and I think if we have our eyes on eternity we have a different perspective. Paul said, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20 ESV). Our permanent place of dwelling is heaven. This place where we are now is just the staging area for eternity. When you live with heaven in mind, it changes how you live.
With these points in mind, what are some goals that you have personally or as a family? What are some things that the Lord is putting on your heart for a new year and a fresh start? Let me encourage you in a few areas:
Growth as a Christian
Bible reading is key for us as believers. A helpful link in regard to picking a Bible reading program that is right for you and for your family is faithlife.com. You can set up a free account and choose a Bible reading plan.
Another way to just grow in wisdom and knowledge is to read good books. Reading is a struggle for many and the only way we can get better at reading is to read. Here is a helpful blog post that I came across for setting up a reading goal for 2016: Tim Challies’ 2016 Reading Challenge.
Family Devotions
Getting into God’s Word as a family is not only precious but also needed. Here are a couple of ideas:

  • The Family Worship Book by Terry Johnson is a great resource with many suggestions for the family about gathering together and doing worship together. You can purchase this book online or at the Harvest Bookstore.
  • Old Story New and Long Story Short by Marty Machowski are devotional books intended for the family. Click on the titles to purchase on Amazon (which you could buy as a digital book) or pick them up at the Harvest Bookstore.

Probably one of the biggest goals that families have is getting out of debt and budgeting properly. My wife and I have been tremendously helped by going through Financial Peace University by Dave Ramsey. You can find out more by going to FPU.
Paul told Timothy that bodily exercise is of some value, but godliness is profitable for all things. Paul was not dismissing the importance of exercise. There are many great things that come with eating right and exercise, such as longer life, more energy, and less money spent on doctors for poor health, but the greatest is to be used by God more and more.
Pastor Jonathan M. Lee

When Should a Child Participate in Communion?

I love that children by nature want to experience so much. They are inquisitive and desire to be part of everything. I love that God made them that way. I have been asked about children partaking in Communion. When should a child participate in Communion? Is there a proper age? This is a great question to look at.
I have seen it: the Communion elements are being passed out and a parent sitting with their children asks, “Is this for kids?” Children by nature want to participate because you as a parent are doing it.
There cannot be a set age limit. I believe it varies based on their understanding of Communion and their spiritual maturity. Jesus tells us that we should partake of Communion often in remembrance of Him (Luke 22:14–23). Paul gives us the warning not to eat of it in an unworthy manner (1 Corinthians 11:27). This needs to be applied to children as well as adults. The remembrance of the Lord’s Supper is for the believer. This is to remind us of the cost of our sin, Jesus’ death, and to reflect on God’s grace. It is to be a reminder of how greatly loved you are by God. It is to remind you of your need for Jesus and Him alone for salvation. It is to be a time of celebration that your sins have been paid for by Jesus. The warning of “not taking it in an unworthy manner” means that not just anyone can partake of it.
I have heard different sides to this question. Some may suggest for children to wait until they can fully grasp the depth of Communion, such as in the teenage years. Others suggest that when a child has made a confession of faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, they are ready.
What matters before anyone can partake in Communion, regardless of age, is the “why.” Why are we doing this? If your child sees you partaking of Communion and wants to participate just like you, what a great opportunity for you as a parent to express what Communion is all about. You get to be their teacher! You can evaluate to see if they are ready. Here are some important thoughts when allowing children to participate in Communion.

  • Your child needs to have confessed Jesus as Lord and Savior (Romans 10:9).
  • Your child needs to understand the significance of Communion (1 Corinthians 11:17—32).
  • Your child should desire to be walking in obedience (2 John 6).

But, what if they ask during Communion and you know they are not ready? You may be afraid because you don’t want to make a scene by saying no when they don’t understand why they can’t. First, I would encourage you to talk to your child before this situation comes up. You should let them know what the Lord’s Supper is and why we remember it. There is nothing wrong with encouraging them to wait. Waiting is not a bad thing. You are viewing Communion as something very special and very serious. You do not want it to be taken flippantly or casually. Communion is a very serious time when we reflect on what Jesus has done and it shouldn’t just be taken by anyone and everyone. By guarding Communion as a special time, it will make that time much more important for your child when they are ready to partake of it. They will see it as important by your example and explanation. As a parent, use wisdom and discernment regarding when your child is ready.

How to Listen to a Sermon

How to Listen to a Sermon
There are countless books, articles, and even teachings on how to prepare, teach, and preach a biblical sermon, but there is not much out there on how we are called to listen to a sermon. In fact, I can scarcely recall a time where someone said, “Let me teach you how to listen to a sermon.” The Good Book Company came out with a booklet entitled Listen Up! A Practical Guide to Listening to Sermons by Christopher Ash. Here are some helpful thoughts that have been adapted from that booklet.
Come Expecting God to Speak Through His Word
Preaching is more than just someone reading Scripture. Preaching is more than someone talking about the things of God. As Charles Spurgeon said, “The purpose of preaching is to humble the sinner, exalt the Savior and promote holiness.” Preaching is the task given by God, gifted by the Holy Spirit, to the pastor, to point people to Christ (1 Peter 4:10—11).
How often do we come to church with the mindset of “What do I get out of this?” or we judge the sermon based on the entertainment value: “Did it keep my attention?” or “Was it funny?” We should be saying, “God, speak through your Word right now.” “Convict me of sin. “Show me Christ.” “Lead me in holiness.” “Help me to take this time seriously.” “Help me to not get distracted.”
God is speaking through His Word and we should look at the preaching time expecting that we are going to hear life-changing truth. When Ezra the preacher opened the written Word to read and preach it, all the people stood up as a mark of respect and attentiveness (Nehemiah 8:5). God’s Word is holy (2 Timothy 3:16). God’s Word is soul-piercingly powerful (Hebrews 4:12). We shouldn’t take the sermon lightly.
How can we listen to a sermon expecting God to speak through His Word?

  • We can come expecting by first praying.

I have noticed a difference when I pray before I hear the sermon, askin the Lord to help me to pay attention. I also pray that I would listen from the mindset that God’s Word is going forth.
Start by asking God to help you to approach the sermon the right way and value God’s Word. Ask the Holy Spirit to convict you of sin so you can confess it and desire to be holy. Ask that the Holy Spirit would help you understand the life-changing truth that is going to be spoken. Ask for help in seeing Jesus Christ in the passage (Luke 24:27).

  • We come expecting by being prepared.

I know that sometimes coming to church can be hectic. You are just happy that you made it to church! But let me encourage you that coming to church with the right expectation is being prepared.
You can come prepared by bringing your Bible. Not just any Bible, but your Bible! You know, the one that you are most comfortable with and the one you will keep going back to? That one!
Bring something that you can write in, such as a notebook. I have learned that if I bring a notebook instead of just a sheet of paper I am more likely to hold onto it and go back to it. Bring something to write with. You do not need to bring your arsenal of Bible reading pens and highlighters but at least bring something you can write down notes with and things you want to remember and reflect upon.

  • Come expecting by listening well.

Though listening to a sermon may seem one-sided, it is not. You can participate during the message by listening well. How can we listen well?
One way of listening is taking notes. Writing down notes from the sermon will not only help you pay attention to the sermon but also it will be useful when you spend some time to reflect throughout the week on what the sermon was about and how you need to apply it to your life.
Another part of listening well is checking the biblical passage against what the pastor is going over and verifying that what the pastor says is truth. The Bereans in the book of Acts were commended for searching the Scriptures to see all that Paul was saying was truth (Acts 17:11).
Listening well would also include putting away things that would distract you, such as your phone. I know some use their phone or tablets for their Bibles, which is a great use of technology, but if you find yourself distracted and opening up different apps because your device is right there, put it away so that you can listen better to the sermon without getting distracted.
Let’s all come expecting to hear from God through the teaching of His Word this Sunday!

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The Insight of Children

My daughter and I were having a conversation as we were driving back from the store. I mentioned to her that we were almost home and she said, “Daddy, that is not our home; heaven is our home.” I responded by telling her that she was correct, as Paul said, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20 ESV).” Children have some good spiritual insight at times. I love that she was thinking about heaven and it reminded me of how I should be thinking of heaven often.
I was reminded of how children had insight about Jesus in the New Testament. In Matthew 21, in what is called the “Triumphal Entry,” Jesus enters into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, like a victorious king. The crowds yell, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” They lay palm branches and their coats on the ground. This is a great picture of Jesus being the King of kings. The next day, Jesus cleans out the temple as they were using God’s house not for worship, but for making money. This action of course caused a lot of uproar from among the religious leaders. As Jesus was healing the blind and the lame, the chief priests and the scribes came to Him to confront Him. And as they were about to open their mouths, we read a verse which says, “and the children were crying out in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’” (verse 15).
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