Book Review: Family Worship by Donald S. Whitney

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As part of my own 2016 Reading Challenge, I decided to purchase a copy of Donald Whitney’s Family Worship (Crossway, 2016). It helped that Crossway unceasingly advertised this book on my Facebook feed (it goes to show you how impressionable I am, I reckon). And I am glad that I both purchased and read it. The theme of this book is that there ought to be a planned, routine, established time of worshiping God as a family through the reading of the Bible, praying together, and singing praises to God together.I was taken aback during and after reading Family Worship because, to my surprise, this little book packs a punch in the form of heritage and exhortation in just sixty-four pages. Whitney addresses the theme of the ages and one of the celebrated tenants of Christianity, namely, that God deserves our worship. He both deserves and delights in our worship, as individuals and as families who are a part of his Church (Psalm 96:7,8).

From a heritage standpoint, the book gives a quick rundown on the spiritual disciplines of men like Abraham, Job and Joshua in the Old Testament as well as mandates for husbands and fathers from the likes of Paul and Peter in the New Testament. In addition, Whitney generously refers to respected men of the faith down through history, from Tertullian, Luther, the English Puritans, Spurgeon, as well as Martyn Lloyd-Jones and John Piper. Their words add a rich perspective to the argument that our families ought to have purposeful, regular time set aside for worshiping God at home in addition to assembling with other believers in our local churches.

A little more than midway through Family Worship, Whitney shares some serious words from J.W. Alexander, a Presbyterian minister from New York in the first half of the nineteenth century, who wrote a book called Thoughts On Family Worship. In the last chapter Alexander wrote, “Laying aside all flattering words, I may say plainly that I regard the neglect of family worship as springing from lukewarmness and worldliness in religion.” To be fair, Whitney adds his own anecdote.

     But, that’s not true if people have never learned about family worship. You can’t expect Christians to do what they’ve never been taught to do. I once taught a class of 115 seminary students, in which I asked, “How many of you grew up in homes where family worship was practiced?” Only seven raised their hands. Then I asked, “How many have visited in homes where you have seen family worship taking place?” No one raised their hand. In a conservative, Bible-believing seminary which attracts some of the most devoted, gospel-zealous Christians on the planet, people preparing to be pastors and missionaries, only one out of sixteen students in a class on spirituality had any familiarity whatsoever with family worship.

What does that say about the situation regarding family worship in our own churches, the kinds that are blessed to produce such committed young believers? What is the likelihood that students who have never even seen family worship would go into the ministry and teach people to practice it and how to do so? Of course, if they were not first taught about family worship themselves, we would never imagine them teaching it to others.

Here is what I mean when I wrote that I was taken aback. I was personally convicted, as Whitney meant to accomplish in telling this story. Based on the personal experience of 115 devoted young seminary students, he finishes with this:

So we can’t agree with Alexander that “the neglect of family worship [springs] from lukewarmness and worldliness in religion” if people have never heard of it. But, in reading this book, now you have.

It is in this part of the book where all my failed spiritual aspirations as a husband and father came calling. But where many popular “Christian living/ family” books perhaps may leave their readers feeling guilty and demoralized, thankfully Whitney’s book did not do so to me. In it, he encourages his readers, husbands and fathers first, to resolve to lead their families in purposely worshiping God together (through Bible reading, praying and singing) instead of dwelling on past negligence or failed attempts at family devotions. Families, single men and single women, and empty-nesters are also addressed.

Above all, Whitney makes a good case for family worship in his little book, but he is careful to distinguish this practice of family worship from the Christ of the gospel, who alone is the source of salvation. He makes it clear, “We are not made right with God by practicing family worship, or by how well we love and provide for our families, or by anything else we do. The gospel—the message that can lead to being right with God—is the truth of what God has done for us through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.

But what good does it do our families if we never exemplify the gospel, by living it out every day, or by communicating God’s worth? My resolve was strengthened as well as inspired by reading this small tome. I’ll finish this post with something Whitney wrote at the end of Family Worship. “Blessed is the family where the good news of what God has done through Jesus Christ is declared, day after day, generation after generation.”

 

 

 

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Lone Butte, Nevada

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LONE BUTTE, Humboldt County, Nevada—Located between the southern end of the Osgood Mountains and the northern end of the Edna Mountains, Lone Butte overlooks Red House Flat and the sea of sagebrush and bunch grass which grows there. It was undoubtedly a familiar geographic landmark for weary travelers on the California Trail, being north of one of the Humboldt River crossings along that old historic byway. As of March 2016, the landscape lies cold with hints of spring found in grass up-shoots here and there.

Juggling Books

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“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”
― Miss Bingley in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

2016 Reading Challenge Update—Making some progress. Have actually finished four books! I know, not really a record, but it’s satisfactory. Plus, making a purposeful effort to dive into reading more (and comprehending more) is, personally, a cause for mentioning here. When you can fit in time for reading after work and making time for family–better still, incorporating more reading into daily time with one’s family- finishing four books into March is all the more jubilatory. Still, I’m always up for improvement. That’s why I always juggle several books at a time. Some get full treatment while others get flung off and ricochet somewhere between my ambition and the back of the book shelf and into that forgotten realm of good intentions.

Currently, I’m going back and forth between Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Jeremiah Burroughs’ The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment to fulfill the “classic novel” and “Christian living” quotas in the basic level of the Challenge respectively. Throw in A.A. Milne’s The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh at the children’s bedtime and it’s a modest juggle act. As far as the pace of reading goes, I’m going at a rather slow rate. Reading tends to be easier if I’m focused. Picking up Ridley Scott’s The Martian from Redbox completely destroyed any intent to crack open a cover and partake of words when I arrived home. I was inspired to grow potatoes, however.

I’m looking at maybe reading Family Worship by Donald S. Whitney to fulfill reading a book published in 2016. We’ll see. In the meantime, I must finish what I’ve started and am currently reading before I plod ahead. Happy reading!

 

Sweetwater Butte

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SWEETWATER CO., WY—This is a page out of my Moleskine notebook. The rock formations along I-80 can reasonably be ranked up there in the quintessential aspects of the West. Not quite sure what the name of this butte is, but it’s just east of Tollgate Rock, south of the interstate. I used a topo map app but this particular peak was unnamed.

Quick History: Oregon and California Trails; Transcontinental Railroad; Lincoln Highway

Sigma Micron .02 ink pen on small Moleskine Cahir Journal

 

 

Delving Into The 2016 Reading Challenge

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I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions (as usual), which means I haven’t broken any either (which is pretty fantastic). Just before Christmas, I did learn on Facebook, via a friend from Texas, about the Reading Challenge 2016 from POPSUGAR. It got me interested. Then I read of a similar reading challenge on Tim Challies’ blog, which reeled me in completely.

If you haven’t heard of the Reading Challenge, the gist of it is you read as many books as you can, generally involving a smattering of different genres in the list. Challies uses four levels: The Light Reader, The Avid Reader,  The Committed Reader, and The Obsessed Reader. Obviously, the amount of books goes up with each level. I decided to aim low and go with the first level at 13 books in a year because I’m pretty sure I can hit that bar and jump over it. Being realistic, I’m not holding out much hope of reading the 104 books at the Obsessed Reader level, which is two books a week. We’ll see how things go.

In our house, there are many books. My wife and I both have a love for books. But since we also have many children (five of them, which is relatively a lot in the twenty-first century in these United States when you’re not Mormon) and we love them also, jumping veraciously into a book just isn’t as easy as it used to be.  Child rearing generally means shoving book-reading time into the luxury category—filed next to date nights and riding a tamed Tyrannosaurus Rex. Naturally, taking part in some kind of structured reading plan (especially when it includes the word “challenge”) appeals to us.

Currently, I’m reading Winterdance by Gary Paulsen, having finished a George Grant book about Theodore Roosevelt entitled Carry a Big Stick. The latter book, a little over 200 pages, was a quick read, making me want to read a bit more on T.R. Grant focused on Teddy’s faith, qualities (including his impulsiveness), and character traits which made him the leader that he was. Winterdance is an entertaining and even poetic biographical tale about Paulsen’s training for and running in the Iditarod, an 1180 mile sled dog race in Alaska in the 1980s. The film Snow Dogs with Cuba Gooding, Jr. was loosely based on Paulsen’s experiences. I’m enjoying it so far. Paulsen’s dramatic flair for conveying the comedic and absurd makes great reading.

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On the horizon, I’m planning on reading F.F. Bruce’s The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?, which was recommended by another friend of mine. My wife is reading Francis Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live? and it’s very enjoyable to see her enjoying it as I enjoyed reading it a while back. I especially like the give and take we engage in as we both are reading our respective books. On that note, I am looking forward to reading more and learning more this year with a bit of structure.

The Wayward Pocket Knife

Wayward Pocket Knife

In case you can’t read my awesome handwriting, here’s the transcript (or whatever the cool kids and hipsters call it nowadays):

I lost my new Case pocket knife Angela gave me for Christmas, prompting me to turn the house upside down in [an] attempt to find it. I commissioned the children to help me search for it after supper.

Tipping the sofa over, I found, a wooden spoon, my guitar tuner, a saltine cracker, and a Duplo block. No knife. I was losing my mind. I resigned myself to the fact that perhaps the wayward knife was lost—maybe when we went sledding on the weekend. But, then, I tripped on my dirty Carhart pants. There in the left front pocket was my beloved Case pocket knife! All was right again.

Elephant Feet on the Navajo Nation

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I revisited my fond feelings towards the Navajo Nation and all the beauty found there. I didn’t sketch this while I was there last August, but I referenced a photo I took on my way back from Kayenta and the Black Mesa (south of the ever-popular Monument Valley). I threw off the shackles of the blank page and sat on my couch and went at it for a few minutes earlier this week. I waged a good battle trying to figure out how to get our scanner to work the rest of this week. Many thanks to my wife for helping me to prevail against the Hewlett-Packard beast!

Missing in this sketch, the Navajo craft vendors with their lovely wares. When I stopped to admire these sandstone formations beside the highway, a few Native women were  setting up their folding tables, laying out table cloth and setting up their chairs under awnings which were also methodically assembled. There is so much to see and discover there in Navajo country. It’s little curiosities, like the subject of this sketch, which so often catch my attention.

Perhaps I may take my family back next time, making Monument Valley a priority on the trip. Of course, I’d have to take them to see the Elephant Feet at some juncture; a sign pointing travelers towards real fossilized dinosaur tracks near Tuba City also grabbed my fancy. Now, if only my job allowed the highway wanderer in me to run rampant.