Leading Family Devotions With Freedom and Confidence

Leading Family Devotions With Freedom and Confidence

Manners and sanctification

Date

July 28, 2023

Categories

Family Worship

Parenting

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!

Why Your Kids Want You to Read Ezekiel to Them

Why Your Kids Want You to Read Ezekiel to Them

Manners and sanctification

Date

May 18, 2023

Categories

Gospel

Family Worship

Parenting

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!

Mystery=Fun

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!

Simple Way for Your Family to Pray for a Lot of People

Simple Way for Your Family to Pray for a Lot of People

couple with flowers

Date

May 16, 2016

Categories

Prayer

“Will you pray for me?”

Yikes! How many times have you said, “Yes, of course!” but doubted that you’d ever remember to do it?

I’d like to share a simple way to live up to those prayer commitments that also provides an opportunity to involve your family in the ministry of prayer. All you need is a deck of 3×5 cards, a 3×5 card box, and a pen.

Step 1. Personalize the card.
Write the name of the person on one side of the card and the prayer request (if needed) on the back.

You may want to go ahead and make cards for the people you normally pray for…and those who have not asked for prayer but you pray for anyway.

Included in our deck is each member of our family, one card for each extended family unit, the elders of our church, the President of the U.S., state and federal legislatures, neighbors, missionaries, friends, and ministry supporters.

Step 2. At breakfast or dinner have a child randomly pick one of the cards and pray for the person named.

Our 4 year old absolutely loves picking the card each morning which provides a simple way for him to participate in our family worship time. It’s very clearly—HIS JOB—if you know what I mean. Usually, I will have one of the other children pray for the request. If the prayer request is of a particularly sensitive nature, I usually limit the information and pray myself.

Step 3. Put the date that you prayed for the person on the back of the card.
Writing the date on the back of the card allows you to know how long you’ve been praying for that particular person. You may also want to write updates on the back of the card.

Step 4. After praying, put the card in a section of the card box that is separate from the other cards so that everyone is prayed for once per cycle.

Step 5. Add/Remove cards as needed.
We rarely remove cards but simply change how we pray for that person.
Other comments: We often pray for people with exigent requests, regardless. As in one case, we were praying for a young father who was deployed in the Middle East for about 4 months. We prayed for him almost every day.

To get through the deck faster, pick a card at breakfast and one at dinner or simply pray for more than one person at a time.

Individuals and couples without children can benefit from this system. I actually have a separate deck of cards that I use for my personal devotional time.

Remain faithful to your prayer commitments! Lord willing, this simple tool will encourage you to that end.

To receive more encouragement in your prayer life, I suggest attending a Prayer Life Seminar by Paul Miller’s See Jesus Ministries. Three years ago, I took my two teenage daughters to one. It was a great experience as well as an influence for this idea.

More encouragements can be found on our site under
Step 3- Reinforce

Does the Bible Contradict Itself?

Does the Bible Contradict Itself?

Does the bible contradict itself

Date

May 1, 2020

Categories

Family Worship

This question, asked by one of my daughters was not the first time it had been asked. Some of my other children have asked similar questions as they’ve studied the Bible on their own.

She asked her question at morning devotions when we were together as a family. It came up almost in passing.

I reminded her that God doesn’t change (Malachi 3:6, James 1:17) and therefore His Word, the Bible, does not contradict itself; that the Bible is in fact true and completely reliable (Psalm 12:6, 2 Peter 1:20-21, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, and the Westminster Confession of Faith (i. 2, 8).

We looked at the passages in question. We discussed the meaning of the key words in each passage as well as the context and were able to quickly determine to her satisfaction that although the passages seemed contradictory, they actually were not.

After this rather startling episode, a rather horrifying thought entered my mind…what if I was not there at that moment to answer this question for her and she began to doubt God’s Word?

Now, God doesn’t “need” me. He could’ve worked differently. But He has put me in position to be a tool He normally uses in the life of my children. I am humbled and also grateful for such a calling. But I am just a man. I have divided interests and it is easy for me to weasel out of my responsibilities.

In today’s distracted world, we must fight to maintain an intentional focus on the gospel in our lives and relationships.

This is all the more reason then that we should seek to set and maintain a regular time when we are together as a family where we can read the Bible, pray, and have conversations.

It is during these conversations that we learn about what’s really going on in each another’s lives.

Care should be taken not to presume upon God to work around our own agendas. Rather, we should fully embrace our responsibilities to one another by making time to converse, read, pray, and answer questions!

Related articles

how to get your family to want to read the bible
family worship with littles
four ways to make your home a refuge

Practical Tips for Family Worship with Littles

Practical Tips for Family Worship with Littles

toddler bible time

Date

May 23, 2019

Categories

Family Worship

Somedays you find yourself asking yourself “Is this making any difference?”  It is!  Press on friend.  Here are some practical tips to help.

1- Music!  You don’t have to be a professional or even sing on key, kids love it.  Singing, dancing using homemade instruments, gives little ones an excitement for family devotion time. If you really don’t feel like you can do this on your own, play a CD and sing to a song or two.

2- Flannel board sets. A great interactive tool that children love.

3- Printable coloring pages. There are tons of free websites that have many to chose from based on the topic you happen to be discussing.

4- Acting out what is read.

5- Quiet toys saved just for family devotions… play sand or playdough, anything that can keep little hands busy.  The bonus to these is that they can mold characters or other objects related to what is being read.

6- Carpet squares or rugs.  When our kids were all little we used colored rugs for each child, this provided a boundary between them to avoid fights and also gave them personal space which they appreciated.

7- Prayer cards. Eric has written about our prayer card box, you can read the article here.  The little ones look forward to choosing a person to pray for at the end of each reading time.

8- Memorize scriptures.  Little kids love repetition, focus on a verse or two each week, reading it a couple of times a day, you will be amazed how quickly they will pick it up.  They love putting motions to the words.  We bought a simple sign language book and learned signs for some of the words.

9- Find the right time for your family.  Don’t fall prey to doing things like others do.  What works for one family may not work for you.  You may find that reading right after breakfast is best when everyone is fresh.  Maybe dad leaves too early and you need to use the dinner hour.  You may find that including it in the bedtime routine works best for you.  Our family has tried all of the above!  Sometimes the time needs to be altered for a season due to other activities going on.

10- Never give up!  Winston Churchill had it right!  You will face discouragements, kids will run wild some days more than others.  You will get out of practice and not read for a week or even a month.  Don’t count it as a failure.  Success is a process not an event.  When things don’t work, change plans and keep going.  I have seen this success, Eric has faithfully endeavored through all of these years… many of them with more kids under the age of five than over.  They were crazy times, but he stayed with it. Our family devotions are second nature because the practice has been so established.

Have tips that weren’t mentioned? Please share below in the comments!

Related articles

how to get your family to want to read the bible
family worship with littles
three essential truths

Why Read the Bible to Little Kids?

Why Read the Bible to Little Kids?

family worship with littles

Date

May 16, 2019

Categories

Family Worship

You’ve heard a lot about the importance of family devotions.  You’ve probably even made a few attempts at starting them in your own home.  However, they just seemed to crash and burn because of babies crying, toddlers circling the room in their underwear or sibling rivalry ramping up the minute you open the Bible. In a frustrated huff, the Bible is closed and people scattered their own way.  What is the point? Is it really necessary?

All parents seeking to be faithful have asked these questions at one point or another.  Be encouraged, it is worth it! I would like to offer several reasons why it is not just good—but imperative—to read the Bible to your younger children.

1. Nowhere does God’s command to parents to train up their children have an age limit. Check out the most quoted passages, Deut. 6:4-9, Psalm 78:1-10, Psalm 127:3-5, and Ephesians 6:1-4 and you will not see an age limit. In fact, you find just the opposite! The little ones were included where the Word is being ministered (Neh. 8:1, Acts 2:14-41). In other passages where the church is meeting in homes, it would push the edge of reason to conclude that the littlest among them were not present, hearing the word (Acts 2:42, 46, Col. 4:15, Philemon 1:2).

2. God’s word is powerful. God’s own word is what God promises to bless (Isa. 55:11, 1 Cor. 2:5, Heb. 4:12). If God’s word is strong enough to create out of nothing (Gen. 1), then it is strong  enough to work in the hearts of the youngest among us. God’s ways are higher than our ways  (Isa. 55:8). You do not know how the Holy Spirit is using the passages you read to supernaturally  work in your young child’s heart.

3. What are you trying to get them to understand? Is it to amass Bible facts? Or is it to come to know God? Little kids understand basic concepts such as love; good and evil. Any passage you  read will feature either information about man’s sin, or information about God’s grace, both of  which give the opportunity to talk about those basic truths on the simplest levels. They can come to know God in a way that is on their level if you are reading to them with that intention of making those simple things clear. It is possible to do that and also explain the deeper things to the older kids.

4. There is far more to be gained from reading the Bible to your youngest children than merely amassing facts. Consider these additional benefits:

a. They learn that reading the Bible is valuable and are more likely to continue the practice as they grow older.

b. Reading the Bible teaches them that their father and/or mother are their spiritual leaders.

c. They learn to sit still and listen…so that they can stay in the worship service or small group meeting.

5. Finally, and perhaps most important of all—reading the word is one way of showing that you love the Lord. Is reading the Bible something that YOU enjoy? Reading the Bible—seeing Jesus through the gospel—is a critical part of how we grow in our love for Jesus. Including the youngest children in a regularly scheduled family Bible reading time is one way for them to grow up watching you demonstrate your love for God through a passionate pursuit of His Word.

It is hard to fool kids. We can say what we want. But what they believe will likely be the result of what they see us do. Our example is incredibly powerful—one way or another.

As one final word of encouragement, please consider again, Isaiah 55:11, “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

God’s redemptive purposes are not thwarted by our parental inhibitions, imperfections and the craziness that is often family Bible time. God’s word is itself powerful. Through his Spirit, He will do his work. We just need to be his willing instruments.

Related articles

practical tips for family worship with littles
three essential truths
family reading the Bible