Adventures in Family Devotions: The Prologue

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.

While I was in seminary, I had to travel between Tampa and Orlando. This trip made it necessary for me to find somewhere to crash on the nights between classes. I was grateful to my friend Adam and his family for putting me up and putting up with me. Adam had a great family who I grew to love. I learned so much from Adam and his wife, Val, about being a parent. As an only child, I was always a little scared of kids.

With all the slobber, mispronunciation, and blind trust, who wouldn't be scared.

So as I would spend time at Adam and Val's house, I had the chance to watch the way they had family devotions. At exactly 8 every night, their kids (at the time, a 7-year old girl, 4-year old boy, and 2-year old girl) would gather around the couch. All electronics would be turned off and they would have their family devotions together.

I can remember the first few times I saw them gather as a family, I was a little weirded out. The intimacy that I was being let into was not something I was accustomed to.

And yet Adam and Val would gather their remarkably well behaved children to the room. They would read the Bible, work on memory verses, sing songs, and pray together. The kids never acted up. Even Grace, the 2-year old, seemed to actively participate. It was like a magic Jesus utopia of family time. They made it look so easy.

After I got over the awkwardness of watching this all from the sidelines, I resolved that when I had a family, I would do things just like Adam and Val.

I am sure that my memory is selective, but I wanted my families devotion times to be just like theirs. Which was the perfect plan…

…until I had kids of my own.

Tune in later this week to hear about all my failures!


The Rays attendance and ministry in a tourist town

Tropicana Field, empty

Tropicana Field on a weeknight

No shock, no surprise here; I am a huge Tampa Bay Rays fan. I have been to a game in every season of their existence, beside 2. And as a Rays fan who lives outside of the Bay Area, I get asked a certain question over and over again.

“Why is the stadium always empty?”

Any time I try to go into all of the details about the situation, people's eyes glaze over. They don't want to hear about the fact that the staduim is in another city, 45 minutes from Tampa. They could care less about the psychology of “crossing the bridge” for Tampa residents. They don't want to hear about camera angles and the price of the seats behind the bullpen. Most of my explanations fall on deaf ears. But since moving to Myrtle Beach, I have found a question that usually makes sense to people. When they ask me about the Rays, I reply with a question of who their NFL team is. They will always reply with the Eagles, Steelers, or Browns. This makes me wonder, “why not the Panthers”. They are quick to explain that they have always been Steelers fans and always will be. Not the local Panthers.

It makes sense. I won't give up the Bucs or Rays. They are my team. In Florida, this isn't just a sports thing, it's a community thing. Check out this article on the “Cincinnati Factor”. The term refers to people who have moved to Florida from Detroit or Toledo or Cincinnati and still maintain their identity as residents of those other cities. I am incredibly proud of my heritage as a 6 generation Tampa native. But I have only met a handful of other people, in my life, who have longterm roots in the Sunshine State. Most folks go back no farther than the '50's.

And so it is no surprise that they are all still Yankee, Tiger, and Reds fans.

I feel the Rays pain as they attempt to create a community of fans from the crowds of people. Because, by and large, the crowds aren't interested in community. They want to be left alone to watch their team on

The same is true of ministry in tourist towns. As I have been in Myrtle Beach for over 5 years now, I have been amazed at the routine lack of involvement of people in the community and life of the church. This is South Carolina; we are the buckle of the Bible belt. And yet people are more interested in soccer or a good tee-time or going home to see the folks every other weekend. No one is from here and their lack of commitment to this place and to a church has created stunted, immature Christians.

Even the best are more interested in whats going on back in West Virginia or back home in the little town they are from than what is going on here.

The Rays have been smart though. They have been aggressive in pursuing younger fans. They have killer social media programs and great giveaways for kids. It has worked in my case. My boys are being raised Rays fans. The past few years, the crowds at the Rays games have been younger than any other stadium I have been to. But it is going to take time.

The same is true of ministry at the beach. The one thing that I have seen consistently draw people to the church is solid children and youth ministry.

What about you? Does your church have the same problem? How do you overcome people's lack of interest in community and commitment?

Archibald Alexander on Religious Experience

There is reason to believe, therefore, that all ignorance of revealed truth, or error respecting it, must be attended with a corresponding defect in the religious exercises of the person.

Archibald Alexander, Thoughts on Religious Experience, xix

Bavinck on the Sacraments

Herman Bavinck, with his usual clarity and precision, defines the sacraments this way:

In keeping with this Reformed theology described the sacraments as visible, holy signs and seals instituted by God so that he might make believers understand more clearly and reassure them of the promise and benefits of the covenant of grace, and believers on their part might confess and confirm their faith and love before God, angels, and humankind.

Reformed Dogmatics, Vol 4, p. 473

The Mathematical Improbability of Baptism by Immersion

So the other day, someone asked about the difference between baptism by immersion and baptism by sprinkling. I responded with all of the typical arguments, but something struck me that I had never thought about before, Pentecost. In Luke's account of Pentecost (in Acts 2) we read of Holy Spirit descending in power on Apostles. From this they go out into the city preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ. Peter stands before the crowds and preaches and incredible, bold sermon and then this happens:

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:41)

What a sermon! What an outpouring of Holy Spirit! But then it struck me. The Apostles baptized 3,000 people in a day! Unfortunately, many of our translations blunt the sense of the Greek text which makes the “baptizing” and “adding” parallel ideas. So that those who received the word were “baptized and added” on that day.

I have seen a number of megachurch baptisms and the logistics of mass immersions are staggering. I have watched on youtube (of course churches with mass baptisms would put them on youtube!) and been impressed at the administrative architecture that it takes to pull of several hundred baptisms in one day.

But several thousand…

And it got me thinking about the math. Let's assume that the selection of Matthias brought the number of Apostles back up to 12 (remember Judas is already dead). And let's assume that there is a pool of water large enough for 12 men to simultaneously be conducting baptisms, perhaps the Pool of Siloam. And let us also assume that surrounding this water is enough room for 3,000 people to cue up for a baptism. Let's assume all of that as a given.

On top of this, we must account for the time factor. Most immersionist also require a profession of faith prior to a baptism. This ends with the minister saying something like this, “Then on the basis of your profession of faith, I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Even if everyone was brief, it isn't unreasonable to think that getting into the water, giving a credible profession of faith, and then proceeding out of the water would take around 5 minutes per person.

So we have 3,000 people being baptized by 12 Apostles, averaging 5 minutes per baptism. That means that each Apostle would have to baptize 250 people. At 5 minutes a piece, that would take 750 minutes if you were incredibly efficient and didn't take snack or potty breaks.

That's 12.5 hours! Can you imagine being at the end of this line?

Now we also know that the early church often had converts give their profession of faith by reciting a baptismal creed. And despite the name, we know that the Apostles didn't write the Apostles Creed. But even if we conjecture that they were able to repeat a formula, not give an off the cuff testimony, we are still looking at 3 minutes a person, which, at best, cuts our time down to 7.5 hours.

The logistics of a mass immersion at Pentecost push the boundaries of reasonableness. Could Holy Spirit have organized the orchestration of such an event? Sure, He absolutely could have. But is there another possible answer from the pages of scripture?

Yes, there is.

At Sinai when the people renewed the Covenant with God, Moses did something strange. He took the blood of the sacrifices and used half of it to baptize the people of Israel. Check it out in Exodus 24:8,

And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

It is certainly not a trump card for baptism by sprinkling, but the scriptural way to make sense of the massive baptism movement at Pentecost is to mirror the Old Covenant's mass baptism at Sinai.

Either that or the Apostles, not UPS, coined the phrase, “It's Logistics.”

Painting Over Faces

ImageOne of the things I have grown to love about using the lectionary as a Bible reading plan is the daily use of the Psalms. Over the past few years, Christ has spoken to me in such tender ways through the Psalter. The confidence in God’s provision that the authors proclaim bolsters my faith. The round refusal to give in to pressure to serve the idols around Israel, is a constant reminder to keep the faith. The intimate ways that the Psalmist work through their repentance has been a guide to me time and again.

There is however, one thing that I get tripped up on in the Psalms. Whenever David, or any of the other writers, talk about their enemies, I get it twisted. I tend to think of those around me, especially those brothers in church leadership, as the enemies. I take the flaws of others and make them into the evil of the adversaries in the Psalms. So all of the sudden, a misscomunnication between myself and a brother, that I let stew over night, becomes cause for me to desire to be vindicated at his expense. And worse, I read the Psalms and feel justified in my frustration.

The real problem certainly isn’t in the text of the Psalms. The real problem lies squarely inside my ribs. In my heart. Far too often we fall into a pattern that goes something like this: We have a disagreement, sometimes slight other times significant. Then we either act cowardly or over-react in an angry way. This leads to a difficult meeting or conversation. Then after the meeting is over, we allow satan to plant seeds of frustration and anger in our hearts. Our flesh sows discontent and and we water it all with a healthy dose of self justification. Then, we allow the sun to go down on my anger (isn’t there something in Ephesians 4 about this?). We toss and turn in bed playing the event over and over in my mind. Replaying it in ways which make us seem far more clever, and far more spiritually justified.

And then, for me, when I wake up, I read the Psalms. And instead of seeing the sin that I have been wallowing in for the past day, I see those who I have sinned against and I wish these sort of things on them:

Make them bear their guilt, O God;
let them fall by their own counsels;
because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out,
for they have rebelled against you. (5:10)

Let them be put to shame and disappointed altogether
who rejoice at my calamity!
Let them be clothed with shame and dishonor
who magnify themselves against me! (35:26)

May my accusers be put to shame and consumed;
with scorn and disgrace may they be covered
who seek my hurt. (71:13)

Is this the right thing? Am I really justified in wishing these woes on those who have wronged me?

No. I am not. What I always fail to see when I am praying against those who have different opinions than me is my own sin. To whatever degree I have been wronged, it really doesn’t matter, I am still responsible to love and forgive. Even if my enemies did treat me wrong, my response should not be to pray for their demise. My response should be the same as Christ on the cross. He did not paint his enemies as something they were not. He prayed for their forgiveness, even in the midst of their torture.

Maybe the way of the cross is the way to properly love those who wrong us. Instead of winning arguments with our pillow, we should be repenting of our own sins. Seeing ourselves as the bad guys instead of others. Seeing Christ as the hero and not ourselves.

Gospel Identity Small Group Resource

At this year’s General Assembly of the PCA, I received a preview copy of New Growth Press’s small group materials. I was excited because I am a big fan of New Growth Press and their partnering organization, World Harvest Missions. As a pastor, finding small group material is often the rough equivalent of getting a root canal. Trust me, I hate the dentist; this is the most horrifying analogy I can come up with. You are constantly being torn between material. You have to make a choice between material that is Christ centered and material that is easy enough for lay-leaders to use. You have to choose between material that is well packaged and material that is banal. Rarely can you find something firing on all cylinders.

When I received the copy of Gospel Identity, I immediately tore into it. It is an excellent booklet for small groups. I want to point out some of it’s strengths and caution you about a minor weaknesses. First and foremost, what I loved about Gospel Identity was the way it pushed groups into the scripture. This was not like some other small group studies that focused on how you felt, with broad discussion questions. Instead the lessons drove you straight to the heart of scripture. As it directed you to read and study passages together, it asked penetrating, helpful questions that were easy to understand. Sometimes other small group resources ask questions that leave you wondering what they are getting at. Gospel Identity avoids those pitfalls.

Secondly, the book has a brief small group leader briefing that helps leaders get their “sea-legs” leading a group. At the end of the book, there is a leaders section with suggested answers to the questions in the lessons. The authors are careful to teach leaders not to use these answers as a crutch but rather as a “push” to get the group past a place where they may be stuck.

Third, the book is focused on pushing us deeper into our relationship with Jesus. This is not an intelectual exercise, meant to make us smarter; the studies are well-designed to push us, as C.S. Lewis said, “farther up, farther in”. This really comes out in 4 great statements from the introduction:

  • Cheer up! The gospel is far greater than you can imagine.
  • Cheer up! You are worse than you think.
  • Cheep up! God’s Spirit works in your weakness
  • Cheer up! God’s Kingdom is far more wonderful than you can imagine.

These statements clearly set the tone of the studies that follow.

Finally, I loved this material because it pushed people not just to the cross of Christ but also towards one another. The small groups, if run as suggested in the book, move back and forth between interaction in the group at large and discussion in smaller “micro-groups” of 2-3 people. This allows for more introverted members of the groups to still interact. It also creates a greater sense of intimacy, allowing members to open up in a deeper way to an even smaller group. These “micro-groups” are then encouraged to pray for one another and call one another during the week. This whole concept is so much better than the typical discussion-video-discussion format used by small groups. Instead of focusing on videos, groups focus on knowing each other.

The only drawback to the curriculum is its dependance on the leaders of each group. While it is set up well for leaders, if the leader is uncomfortable with the message of grace and sanctification by faith, they could accidentally derail the materail. If a church were to implement the materail, I would suggest that leaders meet together to go through the material in their own small group to familiarize themselves with the study and to be shephered through it themselves.

Overall, I would highly reccommend this material. You can see the publishers page where you can download a free chapter or purchase the book by clicking here. It is also part of a 3 book series, so in all there is 30 lessons available at this high caliber!

New Growth Press is a publisher that I support whole-heartedly. Over the next few months, I will be partnering with New Growth to give away some of their newest rescources for you and your family, so stay tuned!

A great quote by Neuhaus

The tension between the theological and spiritual definition of the church and the sociological fact of the church is acutely embarrassing.

-Richard John Neuhaus

Why Should You Run to Win the Race: A sermon on 1 Corinthians 9

Last week I had the chance to preach here at Surfside. It just so happened the the text I preached had to do with the Isthmian games. The last nine verses of 1 Corinthians 9 make some of the strongest demands on us as Christians. In this sermon I walk through those demands, then ask the question, “Why in the world would we do this?” You can download the sermon by clicking here or listen to it below.

Witherington on Church Authority

Paul believes that there is only one Lord over the ekklesia – Jesus Christ. Apostoloi [and by extension pastors] are only called and chosen as servants under Christ authority.

– Ben Witherington III in Conflict and Community in Corinth (211)