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June 06, 2011

Last weekend I mentioned on Twitter that I had finished planning out my kids’ daily devotions for another week; this led a few people to ask what these devotions look like. Though I am by no means an expert in this area, I am glad to share how I lead my children in their personal devotions.

I have always wanted my children to form the habit of doing personal devotions, but it took me a surprising amount of time to realize that if they were going to do this, I would need to take leadership—not just one time but on an ongoing basis. I find that the kids are quite eager to do devotions, but also very quick to lose the habit if I do not help them maintain it. It was not until I stepped up my leadership that they began to do it with regularity.

I aim to have my children do personal devotions at least 5 times per week (we also do family devotions every evening following dinner). Ideally I would love to have them doing devotions every day, but experience shows that this will be the exception more than the rule. On Wednesday evenings, for example, we have a mid-week service at church and are typically not home until well after the kids’ usual bed time. So for practical reasons, 5 seems like a reasonable target.

My children are currently 11, 8 and 5. The 11-year-old and 8-year-old are good readers and are largely self-sufficient when it comes to devotions. The 5-year-old is not reading much yet so we have a different system for her. Let me tell you what these look like.

Devotions for Children

Every weekend I budget a few minutes of time to sit down and organize a week’s worth of devotions. I begin with David Murray’s Bible Reading Plan for Kids. David has very helpfully put together a plan that takes children a few verses at a time through books of the Bible. You may like to read about the philosophy behind his program here. Essentially he emphasizes brevity, variety, simplicity, accountability and unity, seeking to have his children spend just a few minutes each day reading the Bible and reflecting on what they have read. I am indebted to David for this program but even more for modeling a father’s involvement in leading his children in their personal devotions.

David offers the devotions in two versions. The first is for families that will have their children doing morning and evening devotions and the second is for families that will have their children doing only one or the other. I have opted for just one time of devotion per day.

May 23, 2011

Open Bible Devotions
I recently wrote about Date Nights & Devotions or what the Lord has taught me about my relationship with him through dating my wife. In that brief article I simply sought to show that the purpose of our personal devotions does not need to be learning about God as much as just spending time with him. The great joy of personal devotions is not gaining facts about God but the joy of time spent together.

This leaves a question: How do we get to know someone better? How do we get to know God better? When pursuing God we tend to act differently than if we are pursuing another person. But I think we need to see that we should not break the rules of relationship just because we are attempting to relate to God.

Here are a few of the ways we relate to people which in turn point us to the ways in which we can relate to God.

We Spend Time

The way I came to know the woman who was to become my wife was by spending time with her. There was no trick to it and no shortcut. We sat in church services together, we went on dates together, we enjoyed one another’s company. We did this for 3 years before being married and we have continued to do so for almost 13 years since then. Any deep and healthy relationship will depend upon time spent together. This is true of human relationships and is certainly no less true when befriending God.

We spend time with God in personal devotions. Personal devotions need not be Bible study. They do not need to be a time where you depend upon commentaries and dictionaries, though these are wonderful resources. Personal devotions are simply a time to be with God, to enjoy communing with him. This is done by speaking and by listening, by saying words to God in prayer and receiving words from God through his Word. It may involve a long time of listening followed by a long time of speaking, or it may be far more conversational, far more back-and-forth. The purpose of it all is not to learn about God, but to know God, to grow in relationship with him.

We spend time with God in church. Jonathan Edwards was exactly right when he said, “The main benefit that is obtained by preaching is by impression made upon the mind in the time of it, and not by the effect that arises afterwards by a remembrance of what was delivered.” When we sit under the preaching of the Word we meet with God. We may not remember a whole lot afterwards, but that does not mean that we have not met with God. We can commune with God in prayer, in singing to him, in the Lord’s Supper. Free yourself to make each of these situations relational as much as intellectual (though I will grant that this is a bit of a false distinction).

We Tell Stories

May 18, 2011

Open BibleAileen and I have never been too good at date nights. We know that, according to all the experts, we are supposed to go out on a date, at minimum, every couple of weeks. Those experts must all have lots of money or access to free babysitters because there’s just no way we can afford to pay someone the going rate to watch the kids every 2 weeks. What we do instead is wait until all the kids are at school on a Monday or a Wednesday and we set out on a midday date.

This has worked well for us. And i think we’re good at dating. We both know that the main point of spending this kind of time together is to return home with a lot of new knowledge about one another. We like to head to a favorite restaurant and split a sandwich and an order of 4-cheese spinach dip. We just sit and talk. And when we head home we know we’ve had a good date if we’ve learned things about the other that we didn’t know before. If we haven’t learned anything new we know that our date hasn’t been so good and we swear that we’ll do better next time. Because this is the point of dating—to accumulate knowledge about the person you love.

I’m lying. Well, only partially. That is exactly how we date these days. But it’s not at all how we gauge the success of our dates. We know we’ve had a good date when we’ve enjoyed spending time together. We don’t need to learn anything new. We don’t need to gain facts. We just need to be together, enjoying one another’s presence. We can go shopping and sit in a bookstore and consider it a great date. We return home refreshed, renewed and loving one another more than when we set out. And that’s a great date.

But isn’t it funny that when it comes to personal devotions, when it comes to our relationship to the Lord, we change the rules. We judge the success of our time with the Lord by what we get out of it, by what we remember, by what we’ve learned. We consider our devotions a success when we learn some new fact about God or about the Bible. We admire those who have great biblical knowledge or a great memory for the facts of what they’ve read. We get discouraged and want to give up when we feel like we have learned nothing through that day’s devotions.

August 10, 2010

I’ve shared here before that I often find it difficult to find real joy and freedom in my personal devotions. At times things go very well, but then inevitably it seems that difficulties creep in and I find that I come to dread my time spent reading and praying. What is at some times delight is at other times the most difficult of duties.

Over the years I have often tried programs, structures to keep me in some kind of reading plan. I’ve tried the plans that take me through the Bible in a year (or two years or…) and always I’ve found them difficult. If I make it through the Pentateuch I fall apart in the prophets. I’ve never successfully completed one.

A while back I stumbled upon Professor Horner’s Bible-Reading System. Though something always disturbs me about getting involved in a Bible-reading system (Would I want to do a date night system? A play-with-your-kids system?) I decided to give it a go. It’s unique among the systems I’ve attempted in that it requires more reading and yet somehow makes all that reading seem so much easier, enjoyable and attainable.

The system is quite simple—every day you read ten chapters of the Bible. That seems like a lot, so stick with me as I explain it. Each of the ten chapters will be from different books, which is to say that at any given time you’ll be reading ten books of the Bible concurrently, one chapter per day. So on day one of the system you will reading the first chapter of Matthew, Genesis, Romans, 1 Thessalonians, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Joshua, Isaiah and Acts. You will read each of these books, one chapter per day, and then go on to other books before repeating it all again. This means that every year you’ll read through all the Gospels four times, the Pentateuch twice, Paul’s letters 4-5 times each, the Old Testament wisdom literature six times, all the Psalms at least twice, all the Proverbs as well as Acts a dozen times, and all the way through the Old Testament History and Prophetic books about 1 1⁄2 times.

From the outside it looks like this will be a massive amount of work, a huge commitment of time. But I have found that it is not. The beauty of the system is that you will be reading every day at a pretty good clip. The purpose is not to spend a great deal of time in pondering each word, but in reading the Bible so much and so often that Scripture begins to explain Scripture. I have found that it takes me between 30 and 40 minutes per day, either in one chunk in the morning or in two chunks, one in the morning and one in the evening.

Professor Horners System

July 05, 2010

My knowledge of Scripture is nowhere near encyclopedic. However, I am quite sure that if I were to sit back today and read the Bible from cover to cover I would not find a direct command from God saying “Thou shalt read the Bible daily.” I would not find a guide to personal devotions and I wouldn’t find chapter and verse requiring daily quiet times. However, neither do I need to have that kind of explicit command in order to understand the value of spending time every day reading the Bible.

When I think about the area of daily Bible study I find my mind drawn to the issue of assurance of salvation—whether or not a Christian can be certain that he is saved. I think I am led this way because the Bible is so central, so integral to the Christian life, that to feel no love for it, no desire to study it, must be a sign of spiritual sickness. I would certainly never say that a person who does not want to study the Bible or who does not enjoy studying the Bible is not a Christian. But I would venture to say that the Christian life is so dependent upon Scripture that a person who has no regard for the Bible and who shows little interest in it would have good reason to seriously consider his salvation. Such a person would do well to examine his soul to see if he really has come to know the Lord.

Let’s look to just a few reasons why we, as Christians, should desire to know and study the Bible.

January 11, 2010
Prayer Cross
This comes from the “truth is stranger than fiction” file.
Secret History of America
This sounds like some outrageously revisionist history. “Director Oliver Stone’s upcoming Showtime documentary miniseries ‘Secret History of America” promises to put mass murderers such as Stalin and Hitler ‘in context.’ ‘Stalin, Hitler, Mao, McCarthy — these people have been vilified pretty thoroughly by history,’ Stone told reporters at the Television Critics Association’s semi-annual press tour in Pasadena.”
John Piper’s Q&A at Angola Prison
Here is Q&A with John Piper at Angola Prison.
Al-Qaeda’s New Strategy
“Al-Qaeda’s newfound vitality is the product of a fresh strategy that plays to its networking strength and compensates for its numerical weakness. In contrast to its plan on Sept. 11, which was to deliver a knock-out blow to the United States, al-Qaeda’s leadership has now adopted a ‘death by a thousand cuts’ approach.”
June 13, 2009

Here is a brief quote taken from John Newton’s A Review of Ecclesiastical History which was published in 1769. It strikes me that the words he wrote them are perfectly applicable today:

Whenever and wherever the doctrines of free grace and justification by faith have prevailed in the Christian Church, and according to the degree of clearness with which they have been enforced, the practical duties of Christianity have flourished in the same proportion. Wherever they have declined, or been tempered with the reasonings and expedients of men, either from a well-meant, though mistaken fear, lest they should be abused, or from a desire to accommodate the gospel, and render it more palatable to the depraved taste of the world, the consequence has always been, an equal declension in practice. So long as the gospel of Christ is maintained without adulteration, it if found sufficient for every valuable purpose; but when the wisdom of man is permitted to add to the perfect work of God, a wide door is opened for innumerable mischiefs.
September 02, 2005

I have watched far too much coverage of the Katrina aftermath. In fact, I don’t think I have watched so much news coverage since 9/11. I do not have a lot of choice of what to watch, as CNN is the only news outlet in my list of channels that is constantly covering the event. This morning I did spend a bit of time watching coverage on some of the morning news shows.

What I began to notice yesterday and this morning is that the media is quickly and perhaps subtley changing their focus and are now desperately seeking someone to blame. They are quickly putting a negative spin on even good news. Note that the Houston Astrodome does not represent a great success in transportation, but a failure because it has already filled and buses are being diverted to other shelters. The headlines proclaim that victims are being “turned away” from the Astrodome. The media suddenly seem interested more in finding a culprit than in reporting the news. And in the media it seems that all roads lead to the White House. Here is my interpretation of some of the questions I heard the media asking various figures this morning.

Asked of Michael D. Brown, Principal Federal Officer for Hurricane Katrina response. “Thank you for taking the time to speak with us this morning. You must be a busy man, especially as you flail hopelessly in this putrid morass of your own making. You are clearly an incompetent fool and one unsuited for this position. Tell me, why are you doing nothing for the people of New Orleans?”

Asked of generic Republican politician A. “Millions of Americans who thought Farenheit 9/11 was the very height of journalistic integrity would like to know why President Bush has not yet toured New Orleans. Is it because he is preoccupied with satisfying his insatiable appetite for eating babies?”

Asked of generic Republican politician B. “For many years we have been told that New Orleans could withstand a Category 3 hurricane, but not a Category 4 or 5. For two days we knew this was going to be a major hurricane and yet President Bush, who was provided with powers of omniscience when he took this oath of office, did not adequately prepare the region. Why is this?”

Asked of Governor Kathleen Blanco. Last night you warned the roving gangs in New Orleans that the National Guard has been trained in the use of their firearms and that they may shoot to kill. Why is it that you intend to kill people who are only seeking to find food or water to feed their families?”

A reflection by a news anchor. “I make $8 million a year and live in a penthouse apartment in New York City. I earn merely $7,983,000 more than the average New Orlean. So I believe that I speak for the average victim of this disaster when I say, “When will it no longer be too soon to cast the blame for this disaster on President Bush?”

At this point I am beginning to wonder what good the media is doing. Are they really helping this situation? Isn’t there more they can do? Surely they can use their camera time a little more productively than searching around for someone (who probably works in an oval office) to blame. At least wait until the situation has stabilized!

Anyways, I think it is time for me to turn off the television for a while before I get a little too disillusioned with the Mainstream Media. Oops, it’s already too late!

July 07, 2004

“I didn’t expect the truth about the Spanish Inquisition.”

NOBODY expects the truth about the Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapon is dishonesty…dishonesty and revisionism…revisionism and dishonesty…. Our two weapons are dishonesty and revisionism…and your reckless apathy…. Our *three* weapons are dishonesty, revisionism, and your reckless apathy…and an almost fanatical devotion to deception…. Our *four*…no… *Amongst* our weapons…. Amongst our weaponry…are such elements as dishonesty, revisionism…. I’ll come in again.”

“I didn’t expect the truth about the Spanish Inquisition.”

NOBODY expects the truth about the Spanish Inquisition! Amongst our weaponry are such diverse elements as: dishonesty, revisionism, your reckless apathy, an almost fanatical devotion to deception, and nice red uniforms…”

“You are hereby charged that you did on diverse dates believe that the Holy Church would reveal the truth about the inquisition. Now, how do you plead?”

“We’re innocent.”

“Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!”

“Now — you are accused of naivety on three counts — naivety by thought, naivety by word, naivety by deed, and naivety by action — *four* counts. Do you confess?

“I don’t understand what I’m accused of!”

“Ha! Then we’ll make you understand! Fetch…THE EVIDENCE!”

Vatican ‘dispels Inquisition myths’

The Vatican has published a new study on the abuses committed by the medieval Inquisition and come to a rather surprising conclusion - that in fact the much feared judges of heresy were not as brutal as previously believed.

According to the 800-page report, the Inquisition that spread fear throughout Europe throughout the Middle Ages did not use execution or torture to anything like the extent history would have us believe.

In fact the book’s editor, Professor Agostino Borromeo, claims that in Spain only 1.8% of those investigated by the notorious Spanish Inquisition were killed.

Nonetheless, as the report was published, Pope John Paul II apologised once more for the interrogators’ excesses, expressing sorrow for “the errors committed in the service of the truth by the recourse to non-Christian methods”.

Hunting heretics

After the Roman Catholic Church consolidated its power across Europe in the 12th and 13th Century, it set up the Inquisition to ensure that heretics did not undermine that authority.

It took the form of a network of ecclesiastical tribunals equipped with judges and investigators.

The punishments meted out for wrongdoers ranged from being forced to visit churches and make pilgrimages, to life imprisonment or execution by burning at the stake.

The report is the result of six-years of investigation

A key component of the Inquisition was that it did not wait for complaints and accusations to be made, but actively sought out so-called heretics, who included witches, diviners, blasphemers and members of other sects.

The accused did not have the right to face and question their accuser and it was acceptable to take testimony from criminals and excommunicated people.

The Inquisition reached its peak in the 16th Century as it battled the Reformation, but its most famous trial was that of Galileo in 1633, condemned for claiming the earth revolved around the sun.

Death by burning

The Spanish Inquisition which became independent from the Vatican in the 15th Century, carried out some of the most infamous abuses under its “autos da fé” or act of faith, shorthand for death by burning.

They zealously tortured victims, held summary trials, forced conversions and passed death sentences.

“There is no doubt that at the start, the planned procedures were applied with an excessive rigour, which in some cases degenerated into true abuses,” the Vatican study simply says of this dark period.

But the Vatican report, the product of a six-year investigation, insists that the Inquisition was not as bad as often believed.

Professor Borromeo says for example that for 125,000 trials of suspected heretics in Spain, less than 2% were executed.

He says that often mannequins were burned to represent those tried in absentia and condemned to death and heretics and witches who repented at the last minute were given some sort of relief when they were strangled before being burnt.

Source: BBC News

What can we say? The Vatican is once again downplaying the inquisition. Until they admit to the full extent of the terrible acts done in the name of the Church and until they prove their sorrow in changed doctrine, their apology amounts to nothing. Their apology means as much as if a man beats his wife until she is black and blue and then apologizes for raising his voice at her. It means nothing!

We will, of course, never have completely accurate numbers for the lives lost in the various inquisitions and crusades. The Church continually persecuted Protestants (even in the pre-Protestant era - groups such as the Waldenses), Jews and Muslims alike. Traditionally, and based on some careful (though biased) research, the number of lives lost in the inquisitions was placed in the tens of millions. John Dowling who wrote History of Romanism did years of research and arrived at a number close to 50 million. In recent years the numbers have fallen from millions to thousands and in some cases even to the hundreds.

Do not allow yourself, your children, your church to lose sight of history. We absolutely must continue to allow ourselves to remain students of history.

July 06, 2004

This fall, Rick Warren will be encouraging thousands of churches to join his 40 Days of Community program. Warren descripes this program as “a next step in spiritual growth for your congregation, and we believe it’s a necessary step for deepening healthy, balanced, purpose-driven lives.” 40 Days of Purpose is a prerequisite to move on to Community.

On the surface, it sounds decent enough if you are a fan of all things Purpose-Driven. “The primary focus of 40 Days of Community is to encourage congregations to work together on fulfilling God’s five purposes by developing and deepening an authentic community within your church and reaching out to the community around your church.” Who can argue that deepening authentic community and reaching out to the community could be a bad thing? So what’s the problem?

The problem is that this whole program is Warren Driven. The campaign depends on six essential tools. “Our research from 40 Days of Purpose has shown that churches that use all six of these tools experience much greater results than churches who left out one or two of them.” So if you leave out any of these six tools your efforts are almost guaranteed to fail. Here are the six tools:

  1. The 40 Days of Community kick-off Simulcast.
  2. Seven weekend messages and worship plans.
  3. The “What on Earth Are We Here For” devotional book with 40 days of daily devotional readings and journaling pages. New to this campaign is the inclusion of the small group study guide in the devotional book, creating a complete, comprehensive campaign resource.
  4. Six small group or Sunday school lessons. These lessons will also be available as optional video curriculum in VHS and DVD formats.
  5. Six weekly scripture memory verses
  6. Multiple church-wide events designed to deepen the commitment of your members and move them into active participation in your congregation and community.

Essentially, what Warren wants is the ability to run your church for seven weeks. He will start the campaign with a simulcast where he will cast his vision for your church. Then he will either preach or tell your pastor what to preach for the next seven weeks. It seems he’ll even tell you what songs to sing (and probably what dramas to act out and so on). For forty days your congregation will study Warren’s writing through daily devotionals. During Sunday school or small group time they will study his curriculum. They will memorize Scripture verses, undoutedly in some awful translation and then participate in church-wide events he suggests.

Truly this man must believe he has the exclusive hold on some great truth. What pastor should be willing to hand his church to this man for seven weeks? Do pastors have so little confidence in their own abilities and in their own walk with the Lord that they will defer to Warren’s perceived abilities? I just don’t understand.

The registration cost for this program is roughly $1000 depending on the size of the congregation participating. That price does not include any additional resources you may order. Strangely, there is no indication what that registration fee actually includes.

While I am on the topic of Warren I thought I’d point out that The Purpose Driven Life won the The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association’s (ECPA) Charles “Kip” Jordon Christian Book of the Year Award for the second consecutive year, beating out Wild at Heart and The Case for Christ. The only other book to win this award twice is none other than that magnificent volume of exegetical excrement, The Prayer of Jabez. Past winners of this dubious distinction include: “Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire” (Jim Cymbala with Dean Merrill), Just Like Jesus (Max Lucado), What’s So Amazing About Grace (Philip Yancey), The Body (Charles Colson with Ellen Santilli Vaughn) and a whole lot more Lucado and Yancey books. Warren finds himself in some interesting company.