Wrangling in the Pew

HEATHER MOLENDYK|CONTRIBUTOR A modified journal entry from not so many years ago… Today’s church service was such a blessing! Getting to witness my four children fight each other using subtle gladiator-style battle strategies to be the ones to sit right next to me in the church pew totally validated my worth as a human being. It was an enriching experience to helpfully point out each word in scripture to my younger children only to realize at the end that they had been studying a small ant crawling on the floor the entire time. It was so joyful to sing those old hymns as a family while my small ones bounced mosh-pit style, accidentally knocking my hymn book to the floor. I took such pride in the generosity of my offspring as I pried open his little fingers from the dollar bill that belonged in the offering plate instead of his snug, little pocket. But then, like the eye of a hurricane, I was able to buy myself a limited amount of uninterrupted time when I passed out a small suck-on candy to each child. The winds hadn’t stopped blowing quite yet. I knew full well that when the eye finished its journey overhead, the storm would continue with the winds blowing in the opposite direction. Nevertheless, while their little legs swung back and forth, their little fingers twisted empty candy wrappers, and their little mouths were momentarily occupied, I was able to take that deep breath I so desperately needed. I opened my Bible to the sermon text.

Wrangling in the Pew2022-05-04T00:21:58+00:00

Why Does Covenant Theology Matter?

HEATHER MOLENDYK|CONTRIBUTOR The air is thick with fear. Every time you step out of your house you see those worried glances flicking from face to face taking inventory of those wearing masks and those who do not. Social media is flooded with opinions and anecdotes regarding the decision to vaccinate or not. News coverage saturates our vision with death and violence and unrest. The world writhes under the pain of pollution, needless destruction, wanton waste, and never-ending selfishness. Comfort is the ultimate commodity, whereas life is easily disposable. There are no guarantees for tomorrow. The air is thick with fear. A broken beginning Adam crouches in the shadows. He unsuccessfully wills his frame to shrink smaller to avoid detection from the Holy God moving towards him in the garden. Adam’s heart pounds with the beat of trepidation while he hides in shame. Everything is wrong. “I heard the sound of you in the garden,” Adam admits to God, “and I was afraid” (Gen. 3:10). Adam has a right to be afraid. He has disobeyed and broken the one commandment the Lord God had given him: do not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. With the forbidden bite, comes a flood of consequences: shame, embarrassment, damaged relationships, hardships, and pain. The relationship with his creator is severed, and Adam is now destined to die. The air is thick with fear. Stepping into the destruction with the Covenant of Commencement Although Adam fully deserves to be dismissed and abandoned to his fate of judgement and death, God refuses to walk away. Instead, the Creator takes a step closer. Though this journey will cost the Creator His very son, God sets in motion a plan to hold onto the people He loves. God extends the promise of a Savior to destroy the snares of sin, fear, and death (Gen. 3:14-15). There is hope for God’s people in the Covenant of Commencement...

Why Does Covenant Theology Matter?2022-05-04T23:28:25+00:00

Big Picture Parenting

SHEA PATRICK|GUEST Lately, it seems I am often at wit’s end in my parenting. We have five children in the home between the ages of 8 and 13, and many days it is a struggle to keep my head above water. In the midst of this chaos, I have found that an understanding of covenant theology—the big picture of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness to His children— provides real gospel hope for parents just like me. These three specific truths have anchored my mind and heart: God has not left me alone; he is with me. I often feel crushed by the weight of the responsibility of parenting these children God has placed in my family. I desperately want to make the best decisions for them. Fortunately, I can rest in the fact that these children are the Lord’s; he loves them and is more committed to them than even my husband and I are! Even more, the promises God made to Abraham apply to my family because we are part of the covenant family. In Genesis 17:7, God promises “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” Through my union with Christ, this promise is extended to me as well. As Paul wrote in Galatians, “if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise” (3:29). What this means practically is that God walks with me as I parent my kids— as I try to address the needs that arise moment by moment. He does so as my Father, parenting my own heart as I then seek to parent my children. My elder brother, Jesus, is an ever-present friend and intercedes for me in my weakness and failures. The Spirit is at work in me, transforming and changing my heart even as he works in my own children’s hearts...

Big Picture Parenting2022-05-04T23:06:25+00:00

Follow the Lamb

BARBARANNE KELLY|CONTRIBUTOR Thus says the Lord: “Stand by the roads, and look,     and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it,     and find rest for your souls. —Jeremiah 6:16 As Reformed believers we understand the whole of Scripture through the lens of covenant theology. Reading through the Bible, we see God’s spotlight illuminating the Covenant of Grace, lighting the way through the history of redemption. One way to follow the path of the covenant through the scriptures is to look for the shadows cast by God’s spotlight. These symbols and figures point forward, signifying greater spiritual truths and realities. Examples of such symbols are garden and tree, water and bread, bride and groom, priest and king, wilderness and cities. While the covenantal types and shadows may be familiar to us as Old Testament symbols, neither the symbols nor their significance diminish in importance on this side of the cross. Under the Old Covenant, believers looked forward to the coming of Christ, and in these last days, Christians await his return. But we still need encouragement to look forward. I’d like to encourage you, Dear One, based on God’s covenant promises, to find rest for your soul by looking forward in faith to the Lamb of God. But First, Look Back Let’s begin by looking back at the ancient path. In the book of Genesis, God made a covenant with Abraham, graciously promising to give him offspring as numerous as the stars through his son Isaac. Abraham believed this covenant promise so thoroughly that when God commanded him to sacrifice his son—his only son, whom he loved—Abraham obediently set out first thing in the morning (Gen. 22:1–3). By faith, Abraham considered that even if he sacrificed his beloved son, God was able to raise him from the dead (Heb. 11:19). As they approached the mountain, Isaac, seeing the fire and the wood but no offering, asks, “where is the lamb?” Abraham answered that God would provide the lamb for the offering himself (Gen. 22:7–8). Sure enough, God intervened and provided a substitute. Isaac’s question continues to echo down through the Scriptures. Where, indeed, is the Lamb?...

Follow the Lamb2022-05-04T23:08:05+00:00

The Comfort of Covenant Theology

SARAH IVILL|CONTRIBUTOR One of the things I love to do is sing covenant theology with my children. We have CDs that put the First Catechism: Teaching Children Bible Truths to music, as well as CDs that put the Westminster Shorter Catechism to music. I love both! I have found that we learn the questions and answers better when we sing them. Not only do I love to hear my children sing these truths, I love to sing them too. Whether I’m singing the catechism while doing chores, or while homeschooling, the truths of covenant theology comfort me.    Perhaps comfort isn’t the first thing you think of when you hear “covenant theology.” Maybe you’re not even sure what covenant theology is, or if you do, maybe you aren’t confident in explaining it to others. I want to help you associate covenant theology with comfort, and hopefully be better able to teach it to others. We need comfort on a daily basis, and we don’t want to get it from the wrong sources, such as food, shopping, or media. We want to remember that the covenant-making and covenant-keeping God is with us in our physical pain. He is with us in that messy relationship. He is with us as we battle habitual sin. And He is with us as we engage in service.   Five Ways Covenant Theology is a Comfort Covenant theology is a comfort because it teaches us that God is the Creator and Redeemer who wants to be in a relationship with His people. He created us to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever, so our greatest satisfaction will always be found in Him. He could have chosen to relate to His people in any number of ways, but He chose to relate to us by way of covenant. We could not have initiated a relationship with God, but amazingly He initiated one with His people. This isn’t a relationship that can be broken; it’s binding. And this isn’t a relationship without structure. It’s grounded in His grace and promises. Furthermore, this isn’t a relationship without security. The blood of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, secures it. Covenant theology is a comfort because it teaches us the promise of God’s presence...

The Comfort of Covenant Theology2022-05-04T23:08:59+00:00

Grafted Into the Family of God

HEATHER MOLENDYK|CONTRIBUTOR The pitted dirt road jostled the muddy pick-up truck as it made its way through the narrow rows of Florida orange trees. Years in the sweltering sun and heavy rains had aged the white truck as much as its driver. Putting the truck in park next to a young orange tree and creaking open the door, Jerry carted over the necessary equipment. Studying the tender trunk of the chosen tree, Jerry’s expert eyes surveyed where the grafting procedure would take place. With one weathered hand holding the lower trunk and the other hand firmly gripping a sharp blade, Jerry began removing some upper branches of the young tree. Though the roots and trunk of this particular tree were healthy and strong, Jerry knew this rootstock would not produce an impressive orange harvest when it was full grown. Because of that weakness, some of the scion (upper portion) of the tree was being removed by Jerry’s sharp blade. In the cut places, healthy branches from another orange tree would be grafted on. Jerry brought over freshly cut branches from another young tree in the orange grove. These branches came from a breed that faithfully produced superior oranges. The fruit from this other tree would be sweet, juicy, and bountiful. With a farmer’s tenderness, Jerry tightly bound the new scion to the original rootstock with grafting tape. Then gathering up his tools, Jerry climbed back into the driver’s seat after tossing the worthless tree branches from the original tree into the bed of the truck. The dead branches would be added to the growing wood pile out back to be used for the family’s bonfire that weekend. A wound is made to the original plant. God created Adam out of the dirt. Noah was chosen among the sinful men roaming the earth. Abram was called out of a pagan land. Isaac was brought to life in a dusty womb. Moses was tasked with leading the Sons of Israel to a land of promise. David was chosen to be king and his lineage was promised to endure forever. Over and over, God’s blessing rested upon a people He had chosen to love. Like a mother hen, His protective wings sheltered the love of His heart from destruction and death. In spite of their holy legacy, God’s people eventually despised their Creator, Rescuer, and King...

Grafted Into the Family of God2022-05-04T23:11:17+00:00

Remember to Remember

KAREN HODGE|CONTRIBUTOR On a bitter cold Chicago afternoon, I pulled into the remote parking lot at O’Hare airport. I hurried off for a quick trip to Atlanta. I landed Saturday evening dressed for a Christmas party. Big problem. There had been heavy snow, and I had forgotten where I parked my car. I trudged through the snow dragging my suitcase, yielding no success. A kind shuttle bus driver spotted my pathetic pursuit and asked, “How can I help you”? I unburdened my dilemma with tears in my eyes, and she kindly invited me to climb aboard. She encouraged me to stand by the widow, clicking my remote as she weaved up and down the rows. At last, we could see the faintest of headlights flicker under the snow. I wiped my tears and wished her a Merry Christmas. Forgetful Covenant Breakers Stubborn self-reliance followed by weariness, frustration, and resignation to quit is a recurring picture of my forgetfulness. Like Winnie the Pooh, the bear with very little brain says, “I do remember, but then when I try to remember, I forget!” Every day I fail to remember things more important than where I parked my car, like the bigger story of what God has done. When you forget the Big Story, you forget who God is, who you are, and why you exist. Forgetfulness is not a personality problem; rather, it’s a sin problem. Sin breaks all things, including our capacity to remember and think biblically. God’s people are always in danger of losing their memory, forgetting who they are and whose they are. We are Covenant-breakers, but we serve a Covenant-keeping God. He never forgets His promises or His people; He never suffers from memory lapses. He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. When we fail to remember our great God, we can trust that He will never forget us. Covenant Remembrance Engages Head and Heart To remember something is to intentionally consider, be mindful, or call attention to something. To ponder or delight in something requires stopping, noticing the dimensions, and treasuring its value...

Remember to Remember2022-05-04T23:42:03+00:00

The Good Shepherd’s Pasture

In 2011, our family moved to another state so that my husband, Andrew, could pioneer a new ministry on a college campus. Though unplanned, this change in address also brought a change in our denomination. On one of our first Sunday mornings in our new town, we sat down in the pews of First Presbyterian Church, and I gave my husband’s hand a squeeze. He nodded knowingly in agreement. This was going to be our home. Except one (big) problem for these two Southern Baptists: What to do about infant baptism? I loved the liturgy, agreed with the theology, but I had some problems with the sprinkling of those babies. Did the parents presume these were saving waters? Did they think this was their child’s ticket to salvation to be cashed in at confirmation class? Was it all just a stuffy tradition? Very slowly, I began to intellectually understand why one would choose to baptize their children. I understood the concept of the visible church (church membership) and the invisible church (redeemed hearts). I could make the links between circumcision in the Old Testament with baptism in the New, and I could see how baptism was now a marker showing who belonged to this visible church. I saw no interruptions in Scripture, where families were traditionally dealt with as households. And this made sense to me—that because my children lived in a household of faith, they were set apart in some way. Baptism was a sign to the world and to our children that they were a significant part of the church; they belonged there. But then there was a moment when all of this clicked in my gut, which was a different sort of understanding. A pastor said something to me that changed my whole perspective on my children’s place in the church. He said that one of the best things that we can do for our children is this: Make sure they don’t feel as though we are pushing them outside the gates of the church, and then asking them to find their way back in. They should hear the gospel with clarity, while experiencing the safety of a covenant community. That image of my children being welcomed into the gates of the church settled my heart and gave me a new picture to understand what it meant for them to be in a covenant family...

The Good Shepherd’s Pasture2022-05-07T22:34:38+00:00
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