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Adventures in Family Devotions: (Mis)Adventures and Failures

Next week, I will be featuring a review of the New Growth Press family devotional called, “Old Story New“. Leading up to that, I thought I would share some of my adventures in family devotions. Earlier this week, I wrote about my first experiences with Family Devotions, you can read about it here.

There is an old Scottish story of a rich young ruler. As he was courting women, he was famous for saying that he had many theories on raising children. Then he got married and started having kids. A few years later a friend asked him how the family was going. The now middle aged Scot replied, “Before I was married I had 4 different theories on raising children. Now I have 4 children and no theories.”

When it comes to family devotions, I sometimes feel like this. I had all kinds of ideas and ideals. I had the “Barcott Template” from seminary. I had a children’s Bible, and a heart full of the best intentions. So about the time our oldest son transitioned to a toddler bed, I decided we would start to read a story from the Jesus Storybook Bible. My two year old was unimpressed. I would try to shorten the stories, but he would still not want to listen. One night I can remember calling him up onto my lap to read our story. He obliged after some light bribery. As I tried to read him the most exciting story I could think of, Jonah and the Whale, he was twisting and squirming. I pressed on, reading the story and holding him a little tighter, encouraging him to sit still. This battle of wills ended in my son head-butting me, breaking my glasses. In half.

So we decided to abandoned the story time model. Instead, we began using the Children’s Catechism to work through each night. At first this was great. Our son was taking to it great. Each night we would review the previous questions and work on the newest question. This was all going fantastic until we got to question 30 or so and our son insisted on going through every question, every night. All of the sudden, our nightly family devotional time was stretching to 20 or 30 minutes. And we were just going through the motions of the avalanche of questions and answers.

O yeah, and one time, my son gave me a flying elbow drop in the middle of question 18.

It sure seemed like every idea my wife and I had for family devotions ended in pain and destruction in the most literal sense. We were at the end of our rope, ready to give up on the idea of family devotions.

Fix It: A Sermon on John 11:1-27

Yesterday I preached a message on the story of Lazarus’ death and the response of Jesus and Mary. I led with the story of this satirical news sketch:

Often times, when we face hard times, we  wonder why God won’t just fix the problem. Mary and Martha wondered the some thing in the face of their brothers death. But what if our struggles were taylor made for us. What if God is after something bigger. Click here to listen.

Sermon: Psalm 73

When we are frustrated, we often ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people”. Implicit in this argument is our own goodness. If we allow ourselves to think about this, another question may come to mind:

Why do good things happen to bad people.

The Psalmist addresses just such a question in Psalm 73. This sermon explores the message of the Psalm and uses Hector and Achilles from The Illiad as an iillustration. Click here to listen.

The 10 Other Commandments for Young Adults

So I have been thinking a lot about Generation X & Y recently. I have been thinking about what some of our blindspots are. And by that I mean I have been thinking about my own sinful tendancies. I thought I might make a list of 10 Commandments for us that address areas where we as a generation struggle.

1. Thou shalt not believe that you are the what your LinkedIn Profile says you are: Far to often we as young people think that we the sum of our accomplishments. We think that what can be posted to our LinkedIn account or what our Facebook profile says or what our Klout score is defines us. It is not. God is doing things in us that will never show up in cyberspace. We serve a God who is more concrened with our formation as believers than our accomplishments as people. He is still working on us, even if we have hit a glass ceiling.

2. Thou shalt not put your hope in your Inbox: That email from the company that you applied for, from the customer who is considering buy tons of what you are selling, from that family member you have been talking to, from whoever is causing you to impetuously check your smartphone is not as big of a deal as you think it is. We are so accustomed to being connected, that we have no place for slowness and stillness. It is in stillness that we are formed for the rest of life. It is stillness that is the we find a God who loves us so much, he waits. Remember Lazurus? Jesus loved him and his sisters so much, he waited and let Lazurus die. Don’t ask why God is responding in your timeframe. Ask what he is trying to teach you by waiting.

3. Thou shalt take God seriously: God intends to touch all areas of your life. We know this, no one denies it; but functionally we don’t act like it. We don’t take it seriously. God’s influence of what you eat and drink, the purchases you make or avoid, the jobs you take or pass on should be colossal. Treat God better than you treat your iPhone.

4. Seriously, keep the Sabbath, and that doesn’t mean just watch football: You need to stop working. Full scale Sabbath. You need to take Sunday’s off and go to church. Talk to old people. Smile at children. Worship. Listen. Serve. Connect to people you would never hang out with on a Friday night. It is far more important than you think. Don’t watch football by yourself; do it with your brothers. You will burn out far quicker than you think if you don’t.

5. Respect your elders, and not just because they can promote you: Every generation thinks that older people are crazy. Every generation thinks that younger people are terrible. Ask Elvis about being a sex symbol. As Jackie Robinson about being a liberal. You need to age and wisdom from previous generations more than you can think.

6. The silence button can be an indicator of your heart: We are far to tech savvy to hate someone outloud. We see their name come up on caller ID and we simply silence the call. How often do we silence someone because they are awkward or incovenient. Because they are needy or bothersome. John tells us that the way we feel about our worst enemy is the way we feel about Christ. (1 John 3:10 and 4:8)

7. The Internet is a dangerous place, for everyone: Guys, I am not sure if you know this, but the internet is a dangerous place; tread carefully. There is porn, cynicism, and self-righteousness to be found in spades all over the internet. Ladies, I am not sure if you know this, but the internet is a dangerous place; tread carefully. There is emotional seduction, busyness, and comparitive-righteousness to be found by the ton all over the internet. Be vigilant.

8. Your Media choices matter: Most of us grew up in an age where throwing away certain music and movies was a sign of spiritual maturity. (I am pretty sure that I owned no less than 4 copies of a Smashing Pumpkins album.) We have grown up beyond that an become culturally saavy Christians. This doesn’t mean that anything goes. We need to apply our Christian faith to what we listen to and watch. And not only that, did we buy that album or torrent it? Some of these distinctions probably matter a little more than we want to admit.

9. Word is bond: Your word and by extension your reputation is more delicate than you realize. Our generation is notoriously flakey. This is a problem. Stop canceling hanging out with people becuase something better comes along. Honor your commitments, even if it means sacrificing what you would rather do.

10. Thou Shalt not Keep up with the Kardashians: We have a desire to have what everyone else around us has. We have an incredibly warped sense of normal. We have skewed perspectives on wealth and poverty. If our friend gets a new iPad, we want one too. We have consumed more media (TV, movies, Internet, and whatever) than any other generation; and in doing so we have bought a lie about whats normal and what we deserve. Stop emulating what you see on TV and start focusing on what the Word of God tells us is true and normal.


John 16:25-33 I’m Telling You One Last Time

Last summer while I was on vacation at my folks house in Tampa, I was invited to preach at Westtown Community Church (PCA). It was a great time to speak at a church where a number of my friends and family attend and to have a chance to open the Word in my hometown. As I began to prepare I was lead to the passage in the upper room where Jesus tells His disciples, “Take heart, I have overcome the world”. As I studied the text, I realized more and more how little the disciples understood even on the eve of the crucifixion. This sermon is an examination of what exactly faith is. It looks at faith in the face of problems we just can’t seem to see around. You can by clicking here.

Monday Matines: The Prayers of Scotty Smith

If most of us are honest, prayer is difficult. We always feel like we aren’t doing it right. Like we should have more to say and that the things we say probably aren’t even asking for the right things. I know that I often get paralyzed by these things.

One source that I have found great encouragement in is the prayers of Pastor Scotty Smith. Scotty’s blog, which is composed mostly of prayers is a great resource. Additionally, thanks to Baker Books, you can now purchase a hard copy of 365 of his prayers arranged for devotional use.

This collection is excellent in doing two things that all of us need. First is models gospel oriented prayers. Pastor Smith’s uncanny ability to relate everything to the gospel in his prayers is encouraging to me. It is a challenge to come back to the cross and not give God a “todo” list. Second, Scotty prays about everything. Anything and everything. Some of the topics include: Friendship, the Old Testament Law, Shame, Restlessness, and the passing away of loved ones.

To give you a taste of this, I want to share Scotty’s prayer for those in need of healing, which is the March 28th reading from Everyday Prayers and can be found on his blog.

 Most merciful and mighty Jesus, I begin this day with two strong images and one deeplonging. The first image… oh my, how thankful I am that I get to see what John saw—a vision of the Day and City in which perfect health will permeate all things. You have taken up all our infirmities and by your wounds we are being healed. Because of the tree of Calvary, the tree of life will stand tall in the New Jerusalem… bearing the fruit of yourconsummate glory and the leaves of our complete healing. Oh to live, play and praise in the shade of that tree, in which every expression of disease, disintegration and distress will be gone forever

The second image which preoccupies my heart this morning is that of my precious grandson—weary, worn out, and weepy from, what seems to be, never-ending ear infections. I know his struggle is not that on the scale of the whole nation of Haiti… or the horrors in the Sudan… or the struggles of AIDS wracked-countries, but he is my grandson. And as much as I love him, I know your love trumps mine a thousand-fold. I bring him before your throne of grace right now

Even as I pray for marriages of friends to be healed… the minds of those suffering with mental illness to be healed… the fabric of our racially torn community to be healed… the emotions of the demonized to be healed… friends with stories of abuse, cancer and heart disease to be healed… indeed, for the nations to be healed

Jesus, I don’t understand, and I don’t have to understand the already-and-not-yet of your healing ministry between your two comings. Why, how and when you choose to bring a foretaste of perfect health in the present-state of our brokenness, is up to you.  You are the King who does all things well. You don’t need our permission to do anything.

But holding my little grandson before you re-intensifies my commitment to avoid two extremes: Keep me free from faith-formulas that treat healing like an on-demand right, and keep me free from a theology that has no expectation of your kingdom breaking in with power and healing.

More so than ever, I intensely and deeply long for the Day perfect health. Until that Day, help me and our church family, anticipate and extend various dimensions of your healing ministry, to one another, our community and the nations. So very Amen, I pray, in your holy and healing name.

I hope you are as encouraged and instructed by Scotty’s prayers as I am,

I Love Broken Cisterns and Dirty Water

When I was in high school, it was always fun to play the prank to put stuff in someone’s drink when they stepped away from the table. You could dump salt in their coke, fill their tea with pepper juice and otherwise case mischief. It was always great to see a big reaction when the friend returned to the table and took a swig of Dr. Pepper that tasted like soy sauce. Inevitably that friend would laugh, order another drink and plot his revenge.

But what wouldn’t happen is that person keeping their be-spoiled drink. It was gross.

Jeremiah calls out ancient Israel and us for the same thing. He says, the Lord has these two problems with you. First, you have abandoned him (a free flowing spring of pure water) and second, you have dug your own cisterns which hold no water and whats left at the bottom is dirty and gross.

Well good thing for us, we have city water, right?

Unfortunately, no. More often than not, I turn to my idols to provide me with something that I feel I am not getting from Christ. This is difficult because sometimes the love and acceptance of Christ is somewhat intangible and abstract.

I want people to do what I expect so that I am provided with comfort. We want our kids to act right in public so we can have the adoration of all the over parents around. We want our spouses to love us so that we feel better about our self-worth. We want the elders of our churches to bend to our wills. We want the doctor to shrug and say that the cancer is benign.

The problem is not with having comfort, good kids, or a loving spouse; the problem is wanting these things to serve as our Gods. Only in Christ can we truly have acceptance and the love we truly desire. Until I revel in what Christ has done for me, I am just wallowing around in and drinking my dirty nasty cistern water.

And the problem with cistern water is that it does not refresh. It never quenches the thirst that it says it will. And there in is where our anger and frustration begin. When our idols fail to deliver, we get angry. We get frustrated. And most the time, we jump deeper into the arms of those very same idols.

The Gospel breaks this cycle by reminding us that we are already accepted. I saw on twitter yesterday and now I can’t find it, a quote that goes something like this:

You can tell that you have grown in your understanding and trust of the gospel when you are more willing to disappoint people.

What is it that you feel like you aren’t getting from Christ? How does the Gospel say that he is already providing it?

Remember that you are Dust

So here we go again.

I am going to try to blog for the 40 days of lent like I did last year. This year I hope that the season won’t be interrupted with the large amounts of hospitalization that last year’s lent was marked with.

This morning, I attended my favorite liturgical service of the year at my friend Ian’s church.

This year the thing that jumped out at me like never before was the phrase that the minister says as he puts ashes on your forehead.

Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

As I knelt, reflecting on this I realized how many of mine (our) problems come from the fact that we forget this. Maybe because I grew up in a faith tradition that emphasized the importance of our actions in our sanctification or because I am in ministry, but I often think that Jesus needs me to do things.

But He doesn’t. The kingdom has done just fine without me for thousands of years and it will be just fine when I am gone. My church will be ok, even if I don’t use my gifts. I get so filled with a strange sort of pride.

It’s something I have called Esther syndrome. We have been taught that God has made us for such a time as this (which he has), and he needs us to do this or that (which he doesn’t). In my life this idea has led to so much anger, so much sin. I feel that God has put me in this position to control it and shape it. When things don’t go my way, I turn to Christ in frustration. My leadership quickly becomes anger. I was reminded of this by my friend Tim who found the following quote from Dan Allender and Tremper Longman’s Cry of my Soul:

Anger (especially the anger of a leader) attempts to rectify God’s passivity by empowering us to act instead of waiting vulnerably for God to do something. It is not only a protection against harm and an energizer for battle; it is a taunt against God for apparently refusing to act on our behalf.

And this anger is I feel is justified. But it’s not. I am dust. It is ok. Jesus loves me and will rescue me. And one day, probably sooner than I imagine, I will be dust again.

Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return. And Jesus is quite alright with this.

Angie update: 4/3

Here is an update. Angie is doing ok. The surgeon and the GI dYoctor have slightly different plans. Now it seems that Angie will have an MRI/MCP tomorrow to double check the bile duct. Her kidney numbers have stabilized and the GI doctor would prefer an MRI to an endoscopic procedure. Her kidney/Billy rubin numbers are still high enough that we have to stay here. So it looks like we will be here for a few more days. They don’t do MRIs on the weekend and the surgeon won’t pull the Gallbladder until he is sure the bile duct is clear…basically the surgeon and GI doctor disagree.

Please pray for Angie. She misses our boys. And she can’t eat real food, which is bumming her out.

Here is the beautiful patient with her bionic leg messagers, which will probably end up cost over $9,000.

Kindle Review

A few months back, I got an iPad and did a short write up on its strengths and weaknesses. This past week I used my fantasy football winnings to buy my wife a Kindle.

Right out of the box, the difference is noticable. This thing is thin and light. It is less than half as thick as the iPad and weighs next to nothing. As you begin to use it though, you do notice another difference. The interface (no touch screen) is far less intuitive than the iPad.

So what is good about this device? For starters, its size makes it great to read from. It is small and light and is easily held in one hand. The screen is about the size of a page out of a trade paperback novel and is very easy on the eyes. In fact, as an e-reader, it is superior to the iPad.

On the other hand, the web browser is junk. In addition the interface makes anything but reading difficult.

So what’s the verdict? At nearly 1/4 the price of the lowest level of iPad, the device is a great e-reader if that is all you plan to do with it. If you have intentions of anything more than reading books, this device may be found wanting.

What about you? Do you have an e-reader? How does it stack up?