Family Devotions Are Not New

John Newton, one of my heroes of the faith, wrote the hymn Amazing Grace in 1779.  He also wrote many personal letters that we can learn from, including one answering a question about “Family Worship.”  Family Devotions, time set aside as a family to read the Bible and pray together (and sometimes maybe even sing), is nothing new because the call to raise our families in the Lord is not new.family devotions

Parents were seen as the primary disciplers of their children before Deuteronomy 6:7 was given to the people of Israel, and before the Apostle Paul instructed parents to raise their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” in Ephesians 6:4.  Newton explains:

I am afraid I shall not answer your expectations with regard to the particulars of your inquiry, concerning the most proper method of conducting family worship. The circumstances of families are so various, that no determinate rules can be laid down: nor has the word of God prescribed any; because, being of universal obligation, it is wisely and graciously accommodated to suit the different situations of his people. You must, therefore, as to circumstantials, judge for yourself. You will do well to pursue such a method as you shall find most convenient to yourself and family, without scrupulously binding yourself, when the Scripture has left you free…

…He requires us to acknowledge him in our families, for our own sakes; not because he has need of our poor services, but because we have need of his blessing, and without the influence of his grace (which is promised to all who seek it) are sure to be unhappy in ourselves…

…For it being every believer’s duty to worship God in his family, his promise may be depended upon, to give them a sufficiency in all things, for those services which he requires of them.

Happy is that family where the worship of God is constantly and conscientiously maintained. Such houses are temples in which the Lord dwells, and castles garrisoned by a Divine power. I do not say, that, by honouring God in your house, you will wholly escape a share in the trials incident to the present uncertain state of things. A measure of such trials will be necessary for the exercise and manifestation of your graces, to give you a more convincing proof of the truth and sweetness of the promises made to a time of affliction, to mortify the body of sin, and to wean you more effectually from the world. But this I will confidently say, that the Lord will both honour and comfort those who thus honour him.

I especially appreciate how Newton points out that no matter how inadequate you feel to lead Family Devotions, God has already given you what you need.  Also, there is no one set method–and it will change in your own family over time.  But the basics of being reminded of something from the Bible together as a family in your home, and praying together, is timeless.  If you don’t already have a pattern, why don’t you start with one night a week after dinner–tonight!

Source: Newton, J., Richard Cecil. (1824). The works of the Rev. John Newton (Vol. 1, p. 153). London: Hamilton, Adams & Co.

See God’s Glory Through Your Children’s Eyes

This morning, I was sitting next to a 4th Grade boy and I witnessed something that made me thank God for the marvelous way that He has created children.  We need to learn from them.  Study_of_the_human_hand

I was in chapel at the Christian school that my son attends, and as we were singing before I got up to teach I noticed the boy next to me flexing his hand again and again.  It didn’t seem that it was hurting, but simply that all of a sudden he was fascinated with how his hand was made and how he could open and close it.  Then, just as soon as he had gotten distracted from singing to marvel at the intricacy of the human hand, he began to sing to the Lord again.  And I mean belting it out, eyes closed in worship.

As we sang about how awesome our God is, I was moved to thank God for the ways that we can see His glory through children’s eyes.  Children are naturally curious.  They are sponges.  This is why your 2 year old’s every other word is, “Why?”  They are constantly learning about the world, which is why it is so important that we are there and willing to take the time to point them to the God who created the world: “Young men and maidens together, old men and children!  Let them praise the name of the LORD, for His name alone is exalted; His majesty is above earth and heaven.” (Psalm 148:12-13)

maple leafI brought my 20 month old to the mailbox the other day, and as we walked back he stopped, fascinated with the way the breeze was blowing the leaves in the tree near our house.  I had never even noticed that tree there.  My 2 1/2 year old daughter and 6 year old son would have sat for over an hour on our front porch recently if I had let them, as they were enthralled with the trail that a snail was making across the step.

Do you have eyes to see the world the way a child does?  The human hand, the dark red of a maple leaf waving in the breeze, and the slow inching along of a snail all speak something of God’s glory.  He is a creative, omnipotent God.  If we have eyes to see, they are pointing us to Him.  Your children, grandchildren, or the kids in your class delight in the details that we as busy adults often miss.  Just as they point out these glories of God’s creation, we need to be ready to point them to the glory of our matchless God who created all of these things.

Why Camp Ministry?

This Summer will be my 15th year involved in leadership in Camp Ministry.  I believe in Camp Ministry.  Last summer I spoke at a Middle School Camp at Camp Gilead and then 2 weeks later led our High Schoolers on a 3,000 mile journey to attend Camp Regen.  Our Middle School Ministry is preparing for its’ second backpacking trip this summer.  And I’m getting ready to do it all again.

I guess you could say Camp Ministry is in my blood.  My grandpa, who used to be a pastor in Bellingham, was innovative in Camp Ministry in the 1960s.  He helped Camp Gilead continue as a Christian camp, and he led backpacking trips with youth from his church and the community when churches were not used to this type of ministry.  There are reasons that I love Camp Ministry and pour out my time and energy for it that tie into my biblical philosophy of ministry.  These reasons are deeper than tradition but tie into the same biblical reasons that my grandpa believed in Camp Ministry 50 years ago!

God Goes To Camp  Any time a group of people–any age–stop the busyness and extra noise of their daily lives and spend concentrated time in God’s creation, seeking Him through His Word and worship, God meets them.  “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)

Camp Ministry is a Gospel Ministry  I had the joy and privilege of preaching the Gospel & teaching God’s Word in chapel last summer at Camp Gilead. Almost always, at any camp, there are people who have never heard the Good News of Jesus. What an opportunity! Last summer when I spoke at Camp Gilead 5 Middle Schoolers professed Christ as their Savior for the first time.  The Middle School Coordinator I now work with is married to the director of a Christian Women’s Shelter who was saved at Camp Gilead as a Middle Schooler.  Need I say more about why I love Camp Ministry?

Christian Children & Teenagers Experience the Larger Body of Christ at Camp  Teenagers need to know that Jesus is bigger than their church, and even their local community. Time spent in fellowship with believers from other areas can strengthen their faith and challenge them in their walk with the Lord. I have friends today that still encourage me in Christ, who I only know because I went to camp in high school.

Camp is Purposeful Fun  Camp Ministry embodies what I believe a Youth Ministry should be:  Bible-centered, Gospel-centered & Christ-centered while having a blast!  Bringing youth to Jesus through the Bible and time spent in creation meets their need for salvation and worship of the living God, and fellowship through outdoor activities meets their social needs while helping them to experience true fellowship in the body of Christ.

Don’t Cover Up the Manger

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My wife and I had the joy of teaching Children’s Church on Sunday, and I loved the opening illustration.  As the children came into the room they took turns writing what they do to get ready for Christmas on the whiteboard.  As could be expected 10 days before Christmas, most of it had to do with presents.

Then Melanie read a list of some of the things we often do to prepare for Christmas and a prop was placed into a manger on top of a doll for each activity.  There was a cookie sheet, a little Christmas tree, a camera to represent the family photo, stationery, and of course several presents.

The point was not that doing activities to celebrate Christmas is bad, but rather that we can get so busy getting ready to celebrate Jesus’ birthday that we forget about Jesus.  He can get covered up by all of the details or traditions and be completely missed.

Isn’t this what the chief priests and scribes did in Matthew chapter 2?  They were so concerned with their traditions that even though they knew a lot about Christ’s birth, they didn’t go to see Him or worship Him.

All of those things in the manger in that Children’s Church room should have been outside the manger.  They should have pointed to Jesus rather than take His place!

This Christmas, don’t cover up the manger, but point to it. Because pointing to the manger points us to the cross. “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:21)

Advent Ideas for Families

child lighting advent wreathLast year was the first time that I had ever celebrated Advent at a church, and I loved it.  To enter into a tradition of looking forward to the joy of celebrating Christ’s birth at Christmas even while anticipating His Second Coming helped me keep Christ central to Christmas.  This will be the first year that my family is celebrating Advent at home as well.

As Christian parents, we all want to keep Christ at the center of our families’ Christmas celebrations both inside and outside of church.  Advent is one way to do that.  Maybe you have been wanting to start Family Devotions…what a wonderful way to get in the habit of regularly talking about God’s Word as a family!

Here are several ideas and free resources for you to use in your own families’ Advent celebration.  Joy to the world–and joy to your family this Christmas season!

  • There are Advent wreaths available at Christian book stores, but there are simple instructions and ideas at the beginning of the Focus on the Family booklet below.  Don’t let having or not having an Advent Wreath stop you from celebrating Advent at home!  While I anticipate it adding to the fact that this is a special season, you can still do Advent readings together without an Advent Wreath at home.
  • I encourage you to pick it right up again if you miss a night–or several nights because of the busy holiday season.  The general consistency of looking to Jesus in a special way together as Christmas approaches is what will impact your family!
  • The Jesus Storybook Bible is what we will use with our family this year.  As this blog points out, baby jesus…there are twenty-one stories it in from the Old Testament—each ending with a paragraph that ties in to the imminent birth of Jesus—and then three stories from the New Testament leading up to (and surrounding) the birth story of Jesus.”  Celebrating Advent at home will be as simple–and meaningful–as lighting the wreath, reading the story for that night, and one of us praying.  There is a free PDF from the same blog that lays the readings out from December 1st to Christmas Eve!  Our church will be using the Jesus Storybook Bible curriculum for Children’s Church after Advent, so using it at home during Advent will be another way to further connect church and home.
  • Focus on the Family produced an excellent, free Advent booklet last year, “Knowing Him By Name,” that focuses on the names of Christ throughout the Bible.  It is written for school age children and parents to do together, with a short reading each day and an activity.
  • Nancy Guthrie has written an Advent devotional book, “Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room,” that is designed for the entire family–from school age children to teenagers to parents. [HT: Mike Pohlman]
  • If you have teenagers in your home–or would read an Advent devotional yourself, I encourage you to consider John Piper’s “Good News of Great Joy,” free from Desiring God.

One of Many Reasons I Love Family Ministry

deut 6Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.  You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Deuteronomy 6:4-7

Deuteronomy 6 is one of many passages (Psalm 78:1-10, Proverbs 22:6, Ephesians 6:4, etc.) that lays out clearly that parents are to be the primary faith-trainers in their children’s lives.  Yet, as Timothy Paul Jones explains in Family Ministry Field Guide, although most Christian parents know they have a responsibility for their children’s souls beyond getting them to church, it too often does not happen:

…The overwhelming majority of Christian parents are not actively engaged in any sort of battle for their children’s souls.  When it comes to the process of discipling their progeny, most Christian parents–especially fathers–have abandoned the field.

If you as a parent are personally engaged in a process to transform the countours of your child’s soul, you are a minority.

However, I envision a time when Christian parents consistently engage in planned discipleship processes with their children.  I eagerly anticipate an era when children regularly experience family worship times and spontaneous spiritual conversations. (25)

I do too.  I long to see more and more parents actively engage in planned “faith talks” or Bible reading and prayer with their kids.  I pray for parents to see that their lives 6 days a week speak louder than a sermon and Sunday School 1 day a week.  I am constantly looking for ways that we as a church can partner with and equip parents to fulfill Deuteronomy 6 better.  We are in this together.  This is one reason I love Family Ministry.

I am grateful to be at the D6 Family Ministry Conference this week, learning from leaders like Dr. Timothy Paul Jones.  Yet, as he reminded us today, Family Ministry is not ultimately about a program or plan.  As anything in the church should be, it is about Christ.

Israel failed at following Deuteronomy 6–look at the book of Judges!  We will fail too at impressing these things on our children if we try to do it in our own power.  We need the good news of the Gospel.  Deuteronomy 6 is meant to ultimately point families to Jesus, the only One who perfectly impresses the truth of God on hearts.

Why I Love Camp Ministry

I just returned with my family last week from speaking at a Micamp gilead logoddle School Camp at Camp Gilead (www.campgilead.org) and I’m now in a van heading for Camp Regeneration (www.regencamp.com) with High Schoolers from our church.  This is my 14th summer involved in some kind of leadership in camp ministry.  Why do I love camp ministry?

God Goes To Camp
regen 2013Any time a group of people–any age–stop the busyness and extra noise of their daily lives and spend concentrated time in God’s creation, seeking Him through His Word and worship, God meets them.  “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)

Camp Ministry is a Gospel Ministry  I had the joy and privilege of preaching the Gospel & teaching God’s Word in chapel last week at Camp Gilead. Almost always, at any camp, there are people who have never heard the Good News of Jesus. What an opportunity! Last week at Camp Gilead 5 Middle Schoolers professed Christ as their Savior for the first time. Need I say more about why I love Camp Ministry?

Christian Children & Teenagers Experience the Larger Body of Christ at Camp Teenagers need to know that Jesus is bigger than their church, and even their local community. Time spent in fellowship with believers from other areas can strengthen their faith and challenge them in their walk with the Lord. I have friends today that still encourage me in Christ, who I only know because I went to camp in high school.

Camp is Fun  Camp Ministry embodies what I believe a Youth Ministry should be–Bible-centered, Gospel-centered & Christ-centered while having a blast!

An Open Letter to Immanuel Bible Church VBS Volunteers

Colossal Coaster World Logo 1Dear Immanuel VBS Volunteers:

Wow!  This year’s VBS can be described by the adjective in our theme:  “colossal”!  God has truly surprised us this week by showing us that He is the One “who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think…” (Eph. 3:20)  With over 150 children at VBS this week, it was sheer joy to minister to them with you and to watch your joy in helping them to have fun and learn about Jesus!

Teaching children God’s Word and sharing the gospel with our community in a kid-friendly way are great reasons to have VBS.  But I believe that another reason God blessed us with such a great VBS is to show Himself glorious through the body of Christ working together.  Our Children’s Ministry Coordinator Hilleary Sorenson worked tirelessly to plan all of the details, and you–65 of you at last count–stepped up to serve the Lord with such joy even as all of the classes were bigger than expected.  In fact, knowing that you were serving so many children and families from our church, from the greater Bellingham area, and from right here in our own neighborhood seemed to add to your joy.

I loved watching both young and old from Immanuel teaching, decorating, coordinating, leading, cooking, cleaning, serving food, doing tech work, photography, games, crafts, songs, praying, and simply loving children and families in a way that reflected Christ!

Ephesians 3:20 reminds us that God is able to do far more than what we ask for or think, because it is “according to the power at work within us.”  I saw the fruit of the Spirit pouring out of your lives this week as you served with the strength and the joy that God provides.  Thank you for all that you did, and join with me in praying, “…to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.” (Eph. 3:21)

For the fame of Jesus in all generations,
Pastor Tim

A Wonderful Tension: The Importance of Fathers and the Supremacy of Christ

As I think about Father’s Day approaching, I can easily think of areas in my parenting that I need refocus in.  Voddie Baucham Jr. helped me put my fatherhood in perspective this morning:

The role of men in their families is so important that God picture21honored it by conferring upon us his own title, Father.  We’re the governors and guides of our families, and the way we lead has far-reaching implications…I’ve watched families crumble under the weight of paternal neglect…I’ve watched households transform quickly as fathers take the helm and begin to lead and disciple their wives and children.  I’ve seen marriages healed as husbands begin to take seriously their duty to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25) and to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).

The role of fathers in the family can hardly be overstated.  However, the supremacy of Christ is our fuel, our goal, and our comfort in this great duty.  Because of the power of the gospel and the past and present work of Christ, we can have strength to lead our families today, the vision for where we need to be leading our families, and the reality of forgiveness and help for where we have failed and when we will fail.  I need Jesus.  My family needs Jesus.  Baucham continues:

…The family is not the gospel; nor is the family as important as the gospel.  The family is a delivery mechanism for the gospel.

In Ephesians 5 and 6 the role of fathers loving their wives and discipling their children, the responsibility of wives to submit to their husbands, and the duties of parents to their children are all couched in terms that are unmistakable in their gospel-centeredness.  This is all about “Christ and the church” (5:32)…

…In the end, I want you to see Jesus.  I want you to see him in a way that drives you to pursue him personally and to keep him before your wife and children in a way that causes them to seek him as well.  In short, I want you to shepherd your family in the direction of the Good Shepherd.
(From Family Shepherds, pp. 11-14)

What Is the Place of Bible Study in a Youth Ministry?

One of the things that I enjoy most in life is sitting down with a group of high schoolers on Sunday nights and teaching them God’s Word in a way that is faithful to the meaning while helping them apply it to their lives.  We are currently studying the book of Philippians, and I love the challenge of studying the meaning of the text, seeing the universal principles in it that God is teaching, and then helping teenagers apply it.  We have a small group time after our time of Bible study, and I get energized hearing them wrestle with how what they have heard applies on the baseball field, in their high school hallway the next morning, or in their relationship with their parents when they get home.

Brian Cosby has written a helpful book, Giving Up Gimmicks: Reclaiming Youth Ministry fron an Entertainment Culture that reminds us of the importance of having Bibgiving up gimmicksle-saturated, Gospel-centered Youth Ministry that takes the Bible seriously.  Cosby writes:

Doctrine should never be separated from worship and the “so what?” question.  Doctrine should inform students why they should do well in school, and how they can fight the temptation to gossip about another teen…indeed, the truths of God’s Word should be the lens through which they view all of life–from homework to movies, from dating to parents. — pp. 99-100

I can’t imagine having an opportunity for teens to regularly gather together and not encouraging them to believe the gospel and live the gospel through taking time to teach God’s Word.  Youth Ministries are never more fulfilling their mission than when they support Christian parents by supplementing what their teens are already being taught at home, while also reaching out to those who come from unbelieving homes by consistently, passionately teaching what it means to know and follow Jesus from the Bible.  Anything less is subliminally teaching them that it’s OK to build their lives on sinking sand (Matt. 7:24-27)!

Often when the importance of the Word of God in Youth Ministry is brought up, there is a concern about the place of games.  I heartily believe that both have a place in Youth Ministry.  In our context, our Middle Schoolers and High Schoolers enjoy free time over ping pong, pool, and foosball before we begin each Sunday night, and an organized game after worship in singing, Bible Study, and small groups (including prayer).  In fact, I have told our Children’s Ministry workers, “You must have fun if you work with children,” and the same goes for Youth Ministry.  Teenagers love to have fun together, which is part of fellowship for them.  But there does not need to be a dichotomy between having fun together and taking the Bible seriously!

Peter confessed to Christ, “You have the words of eternal life…” (John 6:68)  In order to have a Family Ministry that has an eternal impact, we need to study those words of eternal life together regularly.  Twelve year olds and eighteen year olds need this Word just as much as everyone else.