Family Devotions

I’m a bit sheepish to write about family devotions because I’m still not excellent at it (which maybe explains why it took me so long to write this post). Even as a Family Pastor, I find that the practice of Family Discipleship is still daunting. For years, I simply didn’t practice any form of family devotions or family worship because the idea seemed impossible. This is because, for some reason, I had this idea that family devotions had to be something like this: Sitting around a table with my wife and four-year old, opening the Bible to the book of Leviticus, and expounding on the vivid details of animal sacrifices while they listened intently (because why not do family devotions out of Leviticus) and then following it up with a skillful playing of Christ Alone on guitar. If this is your family, I commend you and you need to write a book for the rest of us struggling through!

But for many, this is not the reality you experience when practicing family devotions. Instead, the kid(s) are often staring at a wall, trying to get your attention, or hitting each other. You might try to quiet them down or get their attention, but often they return to doing the exact same thing they were doing before. You and your spouse might carry in the frustrations of the day, so your mind is often elsewhere. Maybe you’ve been fighting with each other. In any case, family discipleship and family devotions are messy more often than not. So why practice them? Is it really worth it?

If Scripture didn’t point to the overwhelming importance of family devotions, I honestly wouldn’t practice it. I’d leave my son’s spiritual development up to the nursery I place him in once a week at church or the private Christian school. But one such Scripture reminds me of just how important Biblical study is to the family. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 says,

Hear, 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. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (ESV)

I’ve posted a sermon I preached through this text a couple of weeks back, so I won’t go too far into the details of this text. Instead, I want to focus on the beginning of verse 7. It says, “You shall teach them [these words I command you today (vs. 6)] diligently to your children.” Devotions and spending time in God’s Word with our families is, therefore, not a job for the pastor, or the children’s pastor, or the youth pastor, but a command for the family. The family takes the primary role for teaching their children God’s Word.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a daunting task. But thankfully, there have been many who have produced an abundance of resources to help struggling parents like myself. I thought I’d just share a couple of my favorites:

  1. Family Worship by Donald Whitney – It is a short and rather excellent book on the biblical basis of family worship and also gives some practical advice on how to implement it in your own family. I love this book because it is so short and written by a man who has practiced Family Devotions or Family Worship for many years with his own family.
  2. New City Catechism – I was a bit skeptical when I first started this with my four-year old son. Would he be able to remember the questions and answers to fifty-two questions? We’ve been using these questions for about 7 weeks now and we’ve done just under a question a week and my wife, son, and I love them. We take time to answer them right before we go to bed, in the car, or when we are at home. What makes these even better is the Spotify Playlist which has a song for each of the question. The songs make the questions and answers easy to memorize and a fun way to end our evenings with Wyatt.
  3. Jesus Storybook Bible – I am a Bible snob which also makes me a children’s Bible snob. Too many Bibles my wife and I have been given for Wyatt are either very shallow or downright heretical in the way they tell the biblical narrative. This is why, when I heard there was children’s bible that looked at many of the stories and used those stories to point to Christ, I knew this would be the one that we would use with our son. The Jesus Storybook Bible does exactly this. It doesn’t make heroes out of the patriarchs or prophets or judges or kings of the Old Testament, but uses their stories to point to the true Hero, and Prophet, and King, Jesus. We’ve read through it once and it continues to be a Bible we go back to time and time again.
  4. Tiny Theologian’s ABC Cards – These cards are simple, but effective tool to use with your child. I mean, they have to learn their ABC’s anyway. Why not also teach them the ABC Names of God, or ABC’s of Theology, or the ABC Attributes of God? That is exactly what these cards do. Now, we are a little bit early in implementing these, even though we’ve had them for some time. But so far, Wyatt will pull these out when he wants to run through his ABC’s. It allows Taylor and I to read through the words associated with the cards. On the back, there is also a definition of each of the terms for those kids that are a bit older.

I know Family Devotions and teaching the Bible to your children is a constant challenge, but I’m hoping that the list above will help in some way that maybe you hadn’t thought of before. All I know is that I’m extremely thankful that we serve a God who speaks to the hearts of children, using flawed and sinful parents like myself. And that alone is enough to keep trying, to keep pursuing, and to keep learning how to best teach my children God’s Word.

Continue On!

Why Family Discipleship?

“Raising kids is an endlessly challenging adventure, and it comes with a never-ending list of responsibilities. One of the grandest of those responsibilities is the call to all parents to be disciple-makers in their homes. A disciple-maker is a follower of Christ helping others to follow Christ. No matter what your household looks like, your family is the primary instrument and environment for discipleship in all the fantastic and flawed ways that it might be worked out.” This is how Matt Chandler and Adam Griffin begin their book on family discipleship. These two pastors clearly believe that family discipleship is vital to the life of the family. They believe this because God believes this and makes it clear in His Word. The primary disciple-makers of their children are their parents. 

It’s for this reason, I want to spend the next couple of weeks promoting resources I have personally found helpful to disciple my son, Wyatt. No, I’m not being sponsored by any of these resources (although, if anyone wants to…just kidding, but seriously), but I personally know the struggle to disciple my own family and my hope is that someone might find these resources useful. 

For today, I want to post a sermon I preached last year around this time about family discipleship. The text is from Deuteronomy 6:4-9. I pray this might give you a foundation for why family discipleship is important. 

God Bless! 

A Personal Case for Bible Reading Plans

It’s that time of year again! Time for New Year’s resolutions.

It’s become somewhat of a joke in our culture. We set a goal to lose 10 pounds in a year only to gain 15. We plan to eat better, but still find ourselves at Chickfila twice a week (let’s be honest, you know those salads aren’t that healthy). But one resolution is a certainty for many Christians and that is reading their Bibles daily. How many times have you tried to read the Bible daily, only to make it a month and then stop? How many of you a goal to read the Bible through in a year only to stop once you get to Leviticus or Numbers? So let me throw my hat in the ring with every other Christian website that has talked about reading your Bible this year. My hope is that you will be convinced not only that reading your Bible daily is worth it, but that one of the best ways to do this is through a Bible reading plan. I think I can use myself as an example.

My History before Reading Plans

Growing up, I was never a big fan of Bible reading plans. This, perhaps, was because I was always told that reading the Bible should never be forced or coerced. Instead, I was told that reading the Bible should be something that I desire to do. Bible reading plans were seen as ‘checking the box,’ ‘rote,’ and ‘mechanical,’ something that was frowned upon in the Christian life. But in my early teens, my reading of the Bible generally consisted of me opening up my Bible to some random spot and starting to read. Because of the way the Bible is layed out, I generally would flip open my Bible somewhere in the Old Testament, maybe something like Isaiah or Jeremiah (you know, the easy books to read…). Bible reading was sporadic and I’m not sure I got too much out of it. As I got older, in my late teens, I started reading larger chunks of the Bible when I could. One summer on a trip from St. Louis to Colorado Springs, I read the New Testament. This method proved to be better and the retention of what I read was greater. Still reading was sporadic.

By the time I was called to ministry in my early twenties, I felt the need to work my way through the Bible. Unfortunately, I did not quite have the tools or perseverance to complete it. I would start in Genesis and read as much as I could one day and then pick up where I left off the next day. Some days I would read one chapter and other days I would read ten. It all depended on how much time I had. Still, problems with reading consistently occurred. Frequently I found myself reading large passages of Scripture in books like Exodus and Leviticus and come away from it wondering what I had just read. Turns out instructions for building the temple and how to slaughter animals isn’t nearly as interesting as you would think. My attempts at reading through the Bible would last longer than it did in my teens. I might get to the book of Deuteronomy or maybe Joshua, but eventually I would tire of reading day after day and eventually stop. My sporadic and incomplete reading would continue through the first few years of my marriage.

My History with Reading Plans

Flash forward to January 1st, 2018. Taylor had given birth to Wyatt just two months previous. We were stressing because he was not growing nearly as fast as we thought. I’m working for a lighting company as their project coordinator, although I desired to be in ministry vocationally. But the lighting company was a great gig because it gave me a lot of time to listen to music and podcasts. At that time there was one podcast I would listen to almost daily called the Ask Pastor John podcast. On it, John Piper would take listeners questions and spend some time answering them. The question that day was about daily Bible reading or reading through the Bible in a year, something I was extremely interested in. Piper mentioned that He has used a Bible reading plan called the Discipleship Journal Reading Plan to read through the Bible in a year for many, many years. Now, say what you will about John Piper, but this is practical advice I have taken to heart. That day I started the Discipleship Journal Reading plan by downloading the day-by-day plan off of the Navigators website and started reading. What I found was that it was easier to follow and easier to read daily than the previous times I had tried to work through the Bible. But again, what I found was that it was difficult to grab my Bible, grab my check sheet and read through the chapters day by day. That is until I discovered that the Bible app I used contained the very same plan. This changed the way I practiced daily Bible reading. With the YouVersion Bible app, I was able to follow this plan with daily reminders on my phone to read my passages for the day. Sure, there were days that I fell behind and had to double read the next day. There were days I didn’t want to read or had to divide the time I read rather than reading it all at once, but at least I was successfully getting through the Bible. At the end of 2018, I found that I had read the whole Bible in a year.

Bible Reading Now

This is a practice that I have continued. I still read through the Bible in a year. I’m currently on my fifth time through. I’m still using my phone to read more often than not. Still using the YouVersion Bible app although there is another app called Dwell that I enjoy using as well. There are still times I fall behind and have to catch up. After reading through the Bible last year with a different plan, I am back to the Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan.

Now, let me make a short case for why I like this plan. First, it is a plan that is a read through of the entire Bible. I’ve written on why I like this a little more in depth on another post that you can check out here. Second, the daily readings contain a variety of Scripture. There is always one reading from a gospel, one reading from the rest of the New Testament, one psalm or proverb, and a reading from the Old Testament. Some will not like this because they will feel like they are jumping around, but I enjoy the variety. Third, and most important for those who fall behind, there are always four/five days at the end of each month which are ‘make-up’ days. In other words, if you have missed a day, you can use these five days to catch up on you plan. Fourth, YouVersion and Dwell give the option to listen to the Bible as well reading it. This makes it far more accessible. One year, I found myself listening to the Bible driving to work just as much as I read it off the app. It proved to be another way to get Scripture into my life. Finally, I like having a set pattern to my reading every day. Humans are creatures of habit and I find that the consistent pattern in this plan and many other Bible reading plans helps me refocus my day on Christ. Reading Scripture reminds me we have a God who has revealed Himself to us because He wants us to know who He is. It reminds me that even in the chaos of this world and of my busy life, God has given us His word to set to order our lives under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

So whether or not you choose to use a Bible reading plan this year. Whether or not you decide to read the whole Bible or part of the Bible. Whether you decide to read out of a physical Bible or a digital one, pursue the Lord one day at a time through His Word. I can assure you, you will be better for it!

Below you will find links to the Ask Pastor John episode, the downloadable copy of the Discipleship Journal Reading Plan, and a link to the Discipleship Journal Reading Plan on the YouVersion App. Happy reading!

Ask Pastor John episode

Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan

DJBRP through YouVersion

He Will Hold Me Fast

I was woken up by a huge ‘gasp’ from my wife, Taylor. “Eric, my water just broke!”

I looked over at the clock. 1:10 am.

“You need to go and wake up my parents,” she says.

We should be happy about this moment. We should be rejoicing about meeting our son. But all I feel is dread. I run upstairs to her parents and knock on their door. I hear stirring. “Taylor’s water broke,” I say loud enough so they can hear me, but quiet enough not to wake my son in the next room.

I go back down the stairs, into the room, and enter the bathroom. Taylor is standing, crying. “Today is Wyatt’s birthday,” she cries. I can see the pain on her face. Another feeling of dread washes over me.

We quickly pack up our stuff, get in a car, and make the twenty minute drive to the hospital.

What would follow would be the hardest moments we have ever experienced in our marriage, in our parenting, and in our entire lives. We arrived at the hospital around 2 am. The nurse used an ultrasound to locate a heartbeat. Still there. We were moved to another room where routine tests were done to ensure Taylor’s water had actually broke. There was no doubt. By 5am we were moved into yet another room, where we would remain for the next nineteen hours. In that room we would discover our son’s heart had stopped beating. Twelve hours later, Taylor gave birth to our stillborn son, Finley Samuel.

People have asked me throughout these past couple of months one repeated question: “How are you doing?” And while my answers to people have consisted of a number of responses such as, “We’re sad” or “We doing as well as we can.” I’ve spared most people from the answer I’ve wanted to say. Since finding out Finley had Trisomy 18 back in early June, I have been living out my worst nightmare.

Trisomy 18 is a chromosomal abnormality (1 in 5000) which leads to three copies of chromosome 18 instead of the normal, two. In many cases Trisomy 18 babies are lost in the second or third trimester or are stillborn as was the cases with Finley. Only about ten percent make it past their first birthday.

Knowing these statistics, Taylor and I lived with the dreaded prospect of never being able to hold our son. We spent twenty plus weeks grasping what it might look like to never hear him ‘coo,’ never to watch him roll over, craw, or take his first steps. Never to celebrate his first birthday, first day of school, or his first practice. All things that we have experienced with our eldest. This wasn’t right. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. As Christians, we had hoped for better. We had hoped God was going to heal. But he chose not to.

My greatest nightmare had become my reality. Taylor and I were in a situation in which we could do nothing. Doctor visit after doctor visit we discovered that Finley’s body showed more signs of Trisomy 18 and further signs that his little body would not tolerate a life outside the womb. My wife, my son, and my family were grieving a life that had not even left us yet. And yet, in spite of the nightmare I was now living daily, something was happening that I had not expected.

The last time I’ve felt this much heartbreak was November of 2019 due to a miscarriage. Even thinking about it now conjures feelings of loneliness. But there is another event in my family that has haunted me just as much. I wrote about it back in 2018 in my post When Head and Heart Don’t Match. At that point in my life, I was a new dad. My son wasn’t growing. We had been given a child, but my wife and I worried that he wouldn’t make it. My first inclination was to blame God for His failure to provide. I thought He was simply heartless and didn’t care what happened. I thought I was receiving a punishment I didn’t deserve. I had lived faithfully, desiring to serve Him in ministry, so why wasn’t He doing what I wanted Him to do?

I certainly thought the above response might be repeated in this very hard season we were experiencing. I thought worse might happen. I thought my faith would be torn in two. I thought there was no way my faith could last. My faith certainly wasn’t strong enough to ‘make it’ through another lost child.

But I was wrong. Or at least I was partially wrong.

I was right about my own ability to keep faith through an event as tragic as losing a child. I would have crumbled if it were based on my own ability, my own faith to hold fast to Christ. What I was wrong about was Christ’s willingness to hold on to me. I’m reminded of the words Jesus prays to the Father in John 17:10-12,

All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost”

The Lord has done exactly for me what He has done for All His people. He has kept me in His Name. He is the Good Shepherd who does not lose any of His sheep but goes after they when they attempt to flee. It is not because I am deserving. It is not because He knows I can handle the lot that has been given to me. It is simply because I am His and He is faithful to keep His promises. He is faithful to hold on to me even when I have doubted and been unfaithful. He holds on to me in spite of the bitterness I harbored in my heart in the past. He holds on to me because it is His pleasure to do so. And I trust that He will continue to hold on to me because He is faithful and changes not. Through heartbreak and sorrow, He will draw near to my brokenheartedness because He is good and merciful (Ps. 34:18).

I may never know the reasons why God has allowed our son to have Trisomy 18. It may provide opportunities to minister to others who have suffered the same pain, but it may not. It may be that God has used this experience to draw me nearer to Him. None of this is for me to know. But in spite of all the unknowns, I know one thing for sure: Christ will hold me fast. This hardship has put new meaning to one of my favorite hymns, Christ will Hold Me Fast. The lyrics read:

When I fear my faith will fail
Christ will hold me fast
When the tempter would prevail
He will hold me fast
I could never keep my hold
Through life’s fearful path
For my love is often cold
He must hold me fast.

He will hold me fast
He will hold me fast
For my Savior loves me so
He will hold me fast

Those He saves are His delight
Christ will hold me fast
Precious in His holy sight
He will hold me fast
He’ll not let my soul be lost
His promises shall last
Bought by Him at such a cost
He will hold me fast

He will hold me fast
He will hold me fast

For my Savior loves me so
He will hold me fast

For my life He bled and died
Christ will hold me fast
Justice has been satisfied
He will hold me fast

Raised with Him to endless life
He will hold me fast
‘Till our faith is turned to sight
When He comes at last!

He will hold me fast,
He will hold me fast;
For my Savior loves me so
He will hold me fast.

The day after Finley’s birth, we were discharged from the hospital. I remember vividly the last moments holding Finley’s body. Taylor and I cried. We said our goodbyes. We watched as the nurse wheeled away his body. More crying. We would never hold him again on this side of eternity. But even as I type these words, I’m reminded that Finley is the same hands as I am. He is being held fast by the Lord. And there is no better place to be.

Creation

This sermon titled, “Creation,” is from our series The Story. Scripture for this sermon are from Genesis 1 and 2. If you want to know more about True Life Students or True Life Community Church you can follow us on instagram or Facebook by searching HaveTrueLife or you can find us at our website at Havetruelife.com.

Isn’t Christianity Against Diversity?

The sermon, “Isn’t Christianity Against Diversity?” is from the series, “Questions Every Teen Should Ask (and Answer) about Christianity.” Biblical texts used were Genesis 1:26-27; 12:1-3; Matthew 28:18-20; Colossians 3:11 and Revelations 7:9-12. If you are interested in more about True Life Students or True Life Community Church, please visit our website at havetruelife.com.