Leading Family Devotions With Freedom and Confidence

Leading Family Devotions With Freedom and Confidence

Manners and sanctification


July 28, 2023


Family Worship


What Christian parent doesn’t want their children to follow Jesus? Tragically, it is possible to appear to follow him—without really knowing him. What can parents do?

We Are Not Saviors

Let’s start with the comforting truth that we are not our children’s saviors. We can influence, but we ultimately cannot change their hearts to embrace Christ. Although we know this, it doesn’t stop us from parenting as if we could. In matters this important, we want a guarantee.

In effort to do all that we can, we can become very legalistic and rule-oriented. Rules allow us to feel in control of outcomes. Rules are not in themselves bad but they have no power to change a child’s heart. Further, rules can easily lead children to conclude that their parents’—and chiefly God’s—acceptance, approval, and love is at the mercy of their ability to perform to standard. Such an understanding is like climbing a steep mountain but never getting to the top. It is exhausting, frustrating, and alienates us from God.

Salvation By Faith Or By Family?

That we are Christian families is no guarantee our children will know God. Salvation is not “by family” but by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. God’s redemptive plan centers squarely on faith in Jesus Christ. This is very good news! Imagine if a child’s salvation were dependent on us parents. Holy cow, no child would walk with Jesus. We are nowhere near good enough.

That God is in control through sovereign grace removes a burden from us that would otherwise crush us to smithereens. This gives us tremendous peace, rest, and frankly—joy—that compels us to do all we can to help our children follow Jesus—or return to him.

Parents Have Covenant Promises

For example, we have precious covenant promises that guide us and give us great hope. In Psalm 145, David writes that God’s faithfulness is to all generations. In other places such as Ephesians 6:4, Deuteronomy 6:4-9, and Psalm 78:1-8, we see that God clearly expects us to raise our children to know him and to walk in his ways.

In effect, we raise our children as Christians, trusting that they will make a profession of faith, owning as their own, that which we have carefully shown them. So, we have an important role to play that mysteriously works in concert with God’s sovereign choice. But how do we do this?

What’s A Parent To Do?

First, families—must—be in healthy churches. We (both parents and our children) need the teaching and multi-faceted support that can only be found in the local church. Church membership—and regular, active participation—is absolutely vital to survival and health. A lot more can be said about the church. But that is not the point of this article.

Second, there is a strategy we can employ at home. It is a strategy that is helping our children grow up knowing God, and by that, I mean knowing him as he most wants to be known: as loving, gracious, and merciful. This is the overwhelming understanding we come away with about him as we see his wondrous works of grace, love and mercy over and over and over again from Genesis to Revelation. These works describe God’s character and ultimately point to the fulfilling work of Jesus Christ for us. We are new creations in him. We are defined by him, and not by our poor performance. This overwhelming focus does not leave out nor minimize God’s holiness, righteousness, and justice as you will see in a minute.

Is God Our Joy?

When we read the Word not just paying lip service to these truths, but actually making a big deal of them because we as parents really do rejoice in God ourselves, we give the Holy Spirit tremendous tools to work in our children’s hearts.

Years of a steady diet of these awesome truths presented regularly and with joyful conviction paint an enthusiastic portrait of God that is so beautiful and attractive. The ways we can deliver this message are limitless. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 says it this way, we are to teach our children as we rise up, as we lay down, as we walk by the way.

That is a picture of complete gospel saturation that still is hard to do especially in these fragmented and distracted times. But again, is God a joy for us? Do we really love him? Is being in his Word a privilege that we look forward to? We need this just as much as our children! When we have this heart, it can be contagious. Further, it actually compels us to love God’s holiness, righteousness, and justice and to pursue obedience out of a heart of praise and worship which most glorifies God and also increases our joy in him. This is the Christian life as God means for it to be lived.

Family Devotions is a Great Way to Share God’s Love

One very effective way that parents can deliver on this precious strategy is through regularly sharing these truths through regular time as a family in the Bible. Reading the Bible together doesn’t have to look like Ferris Bueller’s Science Class or the breakfast scene in Cheaper By The Dozen. It can be as creative as Deut. 6 indicates.

When our strategy is showing our kids who God is and what he has done for us, family devotions can be quite simple, fun, and effective. It is a powerful way for parents to influence their children to know God and to walk with him.

Special Presentation

I have developed a special presentation for men’s groups to encourage and equip fathers in having family devotions that are built on this strategy. Please click here to learn more.

Check out our recent podcast series “Welcome Home, Hospitality vs Entertainment”

Looking for a way to jump start your family worship? Try our free 7 day family devotional!

Two Things it Means to be a Faithful Parent

Two Things it Means to be a Faithful Parent

Manners and sanctification


July 5, 2023




What does it mean to be a faithful parent? Is it making sure our kids are clothed and fed? Is it dropping them off—on-time—to everything? Maybe it is remembering to tell them we love them every day? Much could be said in answer to this question. However, I will limit my comments to two answers I think are most foundational.

Our Faithfulness as Parents is God’s Faithfulness First

God is faithful to us even when we are unfaithful to him. God does not withdraw his love, grace, and mercy when we sin. We might withdraw from him, but he does not withdraw from us. 2 Timothy 2:13 says, “if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.”

Another way of looking at it is this. Our eternal state and that of our children is not ultimately left up to us. We are nowhere near good enough. We cannot force our children to walk with Jesus. We need the confidence and rest that this glorious truth provides.

What does this mean for us as parents in the trenches?

Before we need to know what to do, we need to know what’s been done. We need good memories. I don’t mean the recall of our failures (which we are proficient at doing) but of God’s faithfulness. He alone is faithful when we are not. He is faithful to us and he is faithful to our children. The Bible is the story of God’s faithfulness to his children. He is faithful to complete the work he has begun in us (Phil. 1:6).

In 1 Samuel 7, Samuel raised an ebenezer (a stone of remembrance) to commemorate God’s victory over the Philistines. What are the ebenezers we share in our homes?

We remember God’s faithfulness when we talk about what he has done for us as husband and wife and as a family. The many daily, often perfunctory prayers for health, safety, and provision whether they be in the form of a good grade on a test, resolution to conflict, a replacement car, or even a needed vacation are reminders that God is faithful that we do well to remember.

When we acknowledge God’s answers to our prayers it glorifies him and provides another small opportunity to remember that he is faithful. The more we pay attention to the details of our lives, the more we will see how God has demonstrated his faithfulness in minute-by-minute meaningful ways.

Over time, these remembrances form a path of faithfulness that testifies to God’s utter kindness, grace, and mercy upon which we and our children want to walk. God’s past faithfulness paves the way for our faithful response to future challenges.

Why is God faithful even when we are unfaithful?

This is an important question to answer. Thankfully, it is not because of what we do right or wrong. Paul tells us, “for he cannot deny himself.” How blessed that is! We are new creations in Christ. We are in him. When God sees us, he sees his son first. The merits of his perfect life, lived for us who royally blew it in Adam, are now ours. We are now and always will be—his. Nothing can separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:38-39). So united are we to him and he will not deny us because to do so would be deny his son.

That God is forever faithful, and that his forever faithfulness is based on the completed work of Christ for us provides priceless confidence to us struggling, flailing, weak parents that compels our pursuit of faithfulness in training our children.

To conclude, the first definition of what it means to be a faithful parent is to rest in the fact that God is faithful even when we are unfaithful.

God’s faithfulness is our message

Second, God’s faithfulness is our message. It is easy to make manners, academic excellence, character, etc. the main focus. Certainly, those are wise aspects to our overall parenting work. All of those and many more are easy to pursue because they can be easily defined; there are clear boundaries to them such as age, grades; there’s a beginning and an end, and accolades for success for the child (and let’s not forget, the parent, too. We love talking about our kids’ accomplishments because it makes us look good, too.)

Certainly, God is at work in these pursuits and we can pursue them to his glory. But they easily become “gods” to us when they are disconnected from the real goal of all education: to know God, his faithful demonstration of his character as a loving, gracious, and merciful God throughout history. God’s love for us compels us to love him in return.

If we love God, we will obey him

Jesus said, if we love him, we will keep his commands (John 14:15). Often, however, we feel the opposite: that we earn his love through our good manners and good grades. When we fail, we think that we fail God and worry that difficulty is God’s retribution for our poor performance in some other area of life. This is not a god anyone wants to know or serve. I think this is the reason some people walk away from the God. They don’t really know him to begin with.

Teaching our children God’s utter faithfulness through all he has done for us, not just saving us from our sins, but as important, ensuring our growing relationship with him through our union with Christ, is the curriculum our children must learn.

God can become their genuine love and passion for the rest of their lives. This is not a parental guarantee, but it is what God has clearly said in his word about our purpose. Jesus said in John 17:3, “this is eternal life that you know the father and the son whom he has sent.” We might teach our children a lot about God. But are we teaching them to know God?

The second definition of faithful parenting is teaching our children about God’s faithfulness beginning with his teaching them about his love and provision in Jesus Christ and then, the many ways God demonstrates his faithfulness in real life.

Let’s be faithful in the most important things… the things that will carry them through the upheaval of life in a fallen world and the things that will matter in eternity. Knowing God is utterly faithful—even in the face of our unfaithfulness—matters. And he has made it possible by virtue of his own faithfulness to us. He cannot deny himself.

A beautiful expression of this is found in the hymn Living Waters, by Keith and Kristyn Getty. “Lead our children to the shoreline of the Living Waters”. I will share the first verse here:

Are you thirsty, Are you emptyCome and drink these Living WatersTime unbroken, Peace unspokenRest beside these Living WatersChrist is calling, Find refreshingAt the cross of Living WatersLay your life down, On Thee, all comeRise up in these Living Waters
There’s a river that flowsWith mercy and loveBringing joy to the city of our GodThere our hope is secureDo not fear anymorePraise the Lord of Living Waters
Spirit movingMercy washingHealing in these living watersLead your children to the shore lineLife is in these Living Waters

Check out our recent podcast series “Reading the Bible the Way the Bible Wants to be Read”.

Looking for a way to jump start your family worship? Try our free 7 day family devotional!

Why Your Kids Want You to Read Ezekiel to Them

Why Your Kids Want You to Read Ezekiel to Them

Manners and sanctification


May 18, 2023



Family Worship


Do you want to excite your children? If so, here are some kid-approved ideas: end school early, take them to a movie… or read them the book of Ezekiel for family devotions. Maybe you’re thinking, “Eric, the first two I understand but you lost me on the third one.”

In his book, Union With Christ, Rankin Wilbourne made the astute point that in the name of making the gospel understandable we have reduced it to such a level that it has lost its enchantment. Tragically, it’s become fire-insurance; a formula rather than a source of great joy that compels our every thought, word, and deed to God’s glory.

The Gospel Is Clear

The basic gospel message is clear and understandable. Even children understand on some level the fundamentals of God’s holiness, our sin, and the remedy of Jesus’ death on the cross. That would be the A,B,Cs of the gospel. But as Tim Keller has said, the gospel is not just the ABCs, it is the A to Z of the Christian life. It is the way we make all progress and grow as Christians. This is where the lights grow dim or go completely out for most people. How does the gospel message help us grow?

The Gospel is Mysterious

As Paul says to Timothy, great is the mystery of the godliness (1 Tim. 3:16). There is a mysterious element to godliness that should enchant us with God and engage our imagination. When you stop to consider it, there is a lot in Scripture about God and who we are in Christ that uses figurative—imaginary—language to help us understand deep spiritual truth.

Consider: how are we hidden in Christ (Col. 3:3)? How did we die with him on the cross and rise back to life with him (Rom. 6:1-3)? Our identity as members of Christ’s body, the church, is described in figurative language: we are body parts, we are hands, eyes, and ears (1 Cor. 12). We are an army (Eph. 6:11-18, 2 Tim. 2:3-4). We are the bride of Jesus (John 3:29, 2 Cor. 11:2). How do we grow as Christians? By focusing on the glory of Jesus, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18. These are enchanting truths!

Kids Love Mysteries and Enchantment

Digging into these descriptions so that they provide meaning for us is not a simple case of “do this” and “don’t do that”. It requires something more: imagination, or perhaps enchantment. Ezekiel helps us with that. But before we go there specifically, let’s remember something about kids today.

Kids today absolutely love mysterious, enchanting books and movies. Until recently, I never appreciated The Chronicles of Narnia or the Lord of the Rings. When I’d watch those movies with my kids, I’d fall asleep trying to figure it all out. But C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, two Christian men whose works have enchanted millions of children and adults, understood that even with all of the clarity the Bible gives there is still an aspect of who God is and how we walk with him that captivates our attention and inflames our imagination.

I have no trouble getting my children to watch any of these movies over and over and over again. THEY have an easy time seeing the rich Christian symbolism. While watching, I will ask them a question about one of the characters and they’ll say, “C’mon dad, don’t you read your Bible? Aslan—the lion—represents God—duh.”

Use The Mysteries of Scripture to Engage Your Children

Enchantment and mystery are just tools: aspects of story that hook the attention of children and should hook us adults, too.

Ezekiel is a book that is rich in imagery (as is Daniel). Some of the imagery helps us understand how all-knowing God is and how all-powerful he is. Some of it helps us get a deep sense of how wicked our sin really is. Some of it, we can never fully understand its meaning. But that in itself brings us tremendous peace and joy. Would God be God if we as finite beings could fully understand everything about him and his ways? No. As it is, he has told us more than enough that is both clear and requires some imagination on our part. The rest we will learn through eternity in heaven.

When I started reading Ezekiel to my kids while on vacation, we were actually in the middle of reading the Gospel of John. When we were back home, I gave my kids the option to continue reading Ezekiel or to go back to the Gospel of John and their answer somewhat shocked me. To a kid, they wanted to read Ezekiel. They were tracking!


Even in Ezekiel, where we read a lot about judgement, we also read a lot that leaves us in joyful awe of our God and his incredible love, grace, and mercy. All of this is shown through God engaging our imaginations through these sometimes crazy, hard to explain visions. But when reading the Bible the way the Bible wants to be read (see podcast series on this) we can understand these passages that we normally would simply never read ourselves, or our children. They become incredible. Fun. And life-giving.

Reading the word of God should not be boring. The Bible features different forms of literature (history, law, narrative, wisdom, etc.) but they all have the same message. It’s about seeing God’s love, grace, and mercy. It’s about seeing Jesus and dazzling our kids with him. It brings joy.

A Tool to Help You

If you are thinking, but Eric, I don’t understand all those complicated visions in Ezekiel and Daniel. Fear not! Helpful tip: invest $35 in an ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible. This is absolutely my hands-down favorite Bible. Ever. When reading Ezekiel, I read the chapter, then I read the commentary that goes with it. It is simple and we are all enjoying The Word which means we are also learning.

Your children might really be bored by your Bible reading but it doesn’t have to be that way! Listen to our podcast series, purchase an ESV Gospel Transformation Bible and read Ezekiel to your children! It will be a truly wonder-full experience.

Check out our recent podcast series “Reading the Bible the Way the Bible Wants to be Read”.

Looking for a way to jump start your family worship? Try our free 7 day family devotional!

The Mystery that Transforms

The Mystery that Transforms

Manners and sanctification


April 27, 2023



“Great is the mystery of godliness.”   1 Timothy 3:16

Was it needing an inspiring conclusion to my 12-week Youth Sunday school class? Or, was it re-reading Rankin Wilbourne’s fabulous book, Union With Christ? Actually, I think it was both. For me, it was one of those moments where I learned another way to grow in the joy of the gospel. I would like to share this with you in hopes that it encourages you—and your family—as it did me.

Do You Like Mysteries?

Mysteries have a way of captivating our attention—and our imaginations. In my youth class, I played a short clip from the movie, Voyage of the Dawn Treader (based on the book by the same title by C.S. Lewis). The kids were riveted to the screen and knew the movie’s details with perfect recall. C. S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien (Lord of the Rings), both Christians, masterfully used mystery and imagination to captivate hearts with the awesomeness of God and his redemptive works in Jesus Christ.

Paul said in 1 Timothy 3:17, “…great is the mystery of godliness.” In saying that, Paul was most definitely—not—flirting with New Age religion (something can be mysterious without being mysticism). He simply caught what we today miss despite reading over and over again, all of the imagery Scripture uses to describe us and our union with Jesus.

Paul Was Excited About a Mystery

Paul was clear on the gospel’s message and how to apply it. But at the same time, he acknowledged there was a mystery to it, too, that brought him joy. Consider the overflow of joy he demonstrates in both of his breathless prayers in Ephesians in 1:15-23 and 3:14-21. Both prayers involve long sentences that as you read them leave you wondering how he prayed them without passing out from lack of oxygen. But the joy of Jesus did that to Paul. It left him breathless.

In Ephesians 1:18, he prays that the Ephesian church would “have the eyes of your hearts enlightened that you may know… the riches of his glorious inheritance”. In 3:18 he prays that they will know the breadth, and length, and height and depth of God’s love. Paul is actively trying to engage our imagination by praying this way. Imagination is required in order to grow in our understanding of who we are in Christ.

Is The Gospel Without Mystery Still The Gospel?

I agree with Wilbourne that one reason the gospel has less impact today is that in our efforts to be clear we have stripped away this mysterious aspect of it. Mystery and imagination actually engages hearts in a way that connects with people today—youth especially.

God is big, awesome, and infinite. What kind of God would He be if He and his many works could be fully known with our finite minds? There is a lot of mystery in God that goads our seeking him. We were made to be enchanted. But there is more to the power of this realization than that.

WE Are In The Mystery

God actually has united us to himself in Christ. Our union with Christ is something that is in many ways a mystery. We died with him and we rose with him (Rom. 6:1-2). We are “in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17). These are awesome theological statements—and mysteries—that incredibly describe us.

To read statements like this in Scripture like we read directions in how to put together a piece of IKEA furniture almost misses the point. Our imaginations should race with excitement to contemplate the boundless meaning of such descriptions of wee people like us.

Greater Joy Awaits

To think thusly, is to be left with greater joy. And this joy is the nectar of the Christian life. It compels us to know God better. To know God is to love God. When we love God, Jesus says (John 14:15), we will keep his commandments. It’s a pretty good deal, isn’t it?

As we read the word together as a family, how are we dealing with these mystery-imagination passages? Are we digging into them, perhaps being silent as we contemplate? Or, do we brush over them in order to get to what we can more easily and quickly understand: the dos and don’ts that we value as more helpful? The opportunity they provide is boundless. They should transfix us.

Transformation Through “Transfixation”

This a lot like what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” This is a mysterious statement that inflames our imaginations.

Our transformation is not owed to our obedience. It is owed to the Holy Spirit who mesmerizes us with the unsurpassed beauty—and mystery—of God in human flesh and our union with him.

Do you find this intriguing? Is a ray of sunshine bursting through the grey clouds of a menial Christian life? Let’s boldly go there with our children.

The Gospel Helps Us Win the War Against Idolatry

The Gospel Helps Us Win the War Against Idolatry

Manners and sanctification


Republished from May of 2016



We are Pleasure Seekers
God created us with a desire to seek joy and pleasure (Psalm 16:11, Phil 3:1, 4:4). Our lives are a moment by moment search for treasure that can bring us joy and pleasure (Luke 6:45).

Did you wake up this morning wanting raw liver for breakfast? Did you drive to work today hoping to wreck the car or to catch the flu. Why not? Because God created you to seek treasure—what brings you joy and pleasure.

God himself is the one who alone can rightly and completely meet these desires for us. When we find our joy in him we are glorifying him.

Because of sin, the flesh seeks to find that pleasure in idols rather than in God (Acts 7:39-43, Rom. 1:22-23, Eph. 4:22). Calvin rightly called our hearts, “A perpetual forge [factory] of idols.”

Whether we consciously realize it or not, we naturally act based on what we think is best for us even if what we want to do is sinful and therefore bad for us. Sin deceives us by tempting us to believe that we can find joy and pleasure in an idol rather than God (Eph. 4:22).

The work of becoming more conformed to the image of Jesus Christ is one that involves discerning these idols in our hearts and by faith, applying the gospel to defeat them.

That God created us to seek joy and pleasure is incredibly freeing and ultimately helpful in our relationships

First, it helps us see that God loves us and wants us to be happy. Satan wants us to believe that God is holding out on us and that true joy and pleasure is found in his counterfeits.

Second, it changes our purpose in relationships. Our ultimate goal is not to be morality police who spy out any vestige of joy in people’s lives. To the contrary, our job really is to help them find greater joy which involves eradicating insufficient sources of joy. Do we tell people this? Do they sense that this is really our driving desire for them? Like the elders of the church, do we see ourselves as “workers for your joy” (2 Cor. 2:14)?

How encouraging to be able to say to a struggling spouse, child, or friend that your purpose is to help him or her to find greater joy the way that God created him/her to find it. This might sound rather impractical. For this message to stick, it needs to be delivered regularly outside the heat of battle. How often do we emphasize this message to ourselves and to each other?

It’s the question that we all need to ask ourselves each day: “Where’s my joy today?” If we cannot answer, “Jesus!” and live in light of that, then we will struggle to defeat the idols that rule our lives.

Note: it is not inherently sinful to seek joy or pleasure in something. (For instance, I get a lot of joy in my dates with my wife). The problem comes when we depend upon that thing to meet our need for joy. (Do I get angry when I can’t go on a date? Or do I get depressed if the date does not go the way I had hoped). The only way for us to keep our desires in proper alignment is to believe each day that all of the joy we need we already have in God alone. If our joy is fundamentally in God alone, and we live more consciously of this fact, then we do not need to find it anywhere else. Within this context, we can truly enjoy whatever God provides as a gift from him. Further, we can still be joyful if we don’t get the thing we want. And we don’t lose our joy if we get what we want but it is broken or taken away.)