Why We Fail at Family Devotions

I have written about family devotions a number of times (most recently in How We Do Family Devotions), and it always leads to a response. Whenever I write about the subject, I immediately receive emails and messages from people who have tried and failed, or who are still trying and are convinced they are failing. I compiled some of that feedback and came up with a list of reasons we fail at family devotions.
We Make it Too Hard
I think the main reason we fail is that we make it too hard. Family devotions are the simplest thing in the world. We just need to get the family together, and then read the Bible and pray. Anything beyond that is gravy. Sing a song if you like. Engage in discussion if you like. Memorize a catechism if you like. Don’t feel like you need to begin with more than the basics. Don’t feel like you have failed if you do not get beyond the very basics. Read a few verses and pray. Then, the next day, read and pray. And the day after that. And the one after that. Take Sunday off (Hey, you’ve been to church, right?) but then pick it right up again on Monday. And just keep going.
I am convinced a lot of people fail because we feel that Word and prayer are not enough. We read books and blogs by people who do so much more and feel that we do not measure up. We finish, see that only 5 minutes have elapsed, and feel like that can’t possibly be enough. It is easier to not do devotions at all than to do them simply. Don’t fall into that trap. Word and prayer are enough. Word and prayer are awesome. Make the fact that you do them more important than how you do them.
We Measure Too Short
Another reason we fail at family devotions is that we give up too quickly. We measure short instead of long. We do it for a few weeks or a few months and don’t see any significant results. Our kids still look bored. Our spouse still doesn’t really buy into it. We ourselves find any excuse to take a day off. And we begin to wonder if this is really worth it, if this is really making a difference.
But we need to measure long, not short. We need to think more about eighteen or twenty years of exposure to the Bible than eighteen days or eighteen weeks. We need to think about our own lives and how we need to hear things a hundred times, not one or two times, before we respond to that conviction. We need to remember and believe that God works through these simple means, but that he does so at his own pace. We need to believe that God honors the means he provides.
We Do it Out of Guilt, Not Conviction
Here is a third reason we fail: We do family devotions out of guilt, not conviction. We hear a sermon illustration about family devotions or get challenged by a book we read. We decide that it is time to finally do this thing, to finally begin this habit. But we are doing so out of guilt rather than real conviction. Our motives are all wrong.
Guilt can motivate for a while, but not for long. When times get difficult or when the guilt begins to fade, it is only conviction that will keep us going. Make sure that you are doing family devotions out of true conviction. Know in your own mind that this is a valuable habit and that God calls you, as the parent, to lead your family in this way. Go to the Word of God and allow God to challenge you with the importance of reading his Word and praying to him.
Our Spouse Won't Do It
This may be the most difficult scenario: We do not do family devotions because our spouse will not participate. Sometimes dad wants to do family devotions but mom will not agree. Far more commonly, though, mom is desperate to see dad lead family devotions but he is just not interested. I can’t even tell you all the times I have seen or heard of this very scenario.
Each one of these situations needs to be approached differently and carefully. Husband, speak to your wife and appeal to her to participate. If she will not, then consider going ahead and doing devotions with your children. Wife, appeal to your husband to take the lead in devotions and full-out support him, affirming his every move. If he will not take the lead, perhaps consider leading devotions on your own. In either case, remember that the local church is your ally here, both through other members who may be able to offer counsel and through pastors or elders.
We Get Proud
Finally, we also fail because we get proud. Here’s what I mean: We try family devotions. It goes well for a week. Then we forget all about it. A couple of months later we try again, feeling a little sheepish this time. We explain to the family “It’s my fault, but I really want us to commit to this and to make it work.” This time we do it for a couple of weeks, but then stop again. The third time around we feel even more embarrassed about telling our family that yes, we are doing this again and that yes, it’s dad’s fault again. Pride rears its ugly head and it seems easier to just succumb to the failure than to rise to the challenge. We get proud and allow pride to withhold a blessing from our family.
Look, family devotions is a sweet and simple habit, a sweet and simple discipline. It is called family devotions not only because it is a gathering of the family, but because it is meant to be by and for your family. Make sure you allow your family devotions to reflect the uniqueness of your family. Make them your own, and do them for the good of your family and the glory of God. Mostly, just do them.
Publication date: August 26, 2015

Ashley Madison and Who You are Online

You have heard by now that the site AshleyMadison.com was hacked and that millions of users had their information made public. Ashley Madison is a company that exists to facilitate (and even guarantee) adulterous relationships, and now those people who wanted to be quietly unfaithful to their spouses have been suddenly outed. As I read the headlines and heard of some of those caught up in the scandal (including, sadly, Josh Duggar), I thought back to one of the first times in Internet history that we had to grapple with the power of the data we leave behind us every time we use the Web. For that we will need to go back to 2006.
In 2006, America Online made an epic misjudgment which taught us a valuable lesson: Who you are when you are alone and online, that is who you really are—no more, and no less. As part of a research project headed Dr. Abdur Chowdhury, AOL made available to the public a massive amount of data culled from their search engine — the search history of 650,000 users over a three-month period. This totaled some 21 million searches. Before releasing the data, they anonymized it, stripping away user names and replacing names with numbers, so that a user with a name like timc2000 simply became User #75636534. Yet because of the often-personal nature of the data, it did not take long before many of those abstract numbers were linked to real names, an obvious and serious violation of privacy and confidentiality. Within days, AOL realized its mistake and withdrew the data, but already it had been copied and uploaded elsewhere on the Internet, where today it lives on in infamy.
Some of the search histories were dark and disturbing, others unremarkable in every way. Still others were strangely amusing. It was often possible to reconstruct a person’s life, at least in part, from what they searched for over a period of time. Consider this user:
  • shipping pets 2006-03-01 16:36:48
  • does ata ship pets 2006-03-01 17:10:35
  • continental.com 2006-03-01 21:34:53
  • pet shipping 2006-03-01 21:35:11
  • broken bones in cat 2006-03-04 03:31:53
  • cat has broken bones above base of tail vet said it will heal on its own 2006-03-04 03:32:53
  • cat broken bones and diarreah 2006-03-04 03:58:24
  • cat health 2006-03-04 14:10:22
  • cat has broken bones wasn’t bleeding before but now is and now she
  • can’t defecate too 2006-03-04 14:16:35
  • mucous blood diarreah in cat 2006-03-04 14:22:47
It is not too difficult to understand what transpired through this three-day history of searches. The search engine data tells a sad story about a person and his or her cat.
This glut of user data raised a nearly endless number of questions and concerns. Primarily, it brought awareness to the fact that search engines know you better than you may like. Actually, they probably know you better than you know yourself in some ways. You tend to forget what you have searched for in the past; they don’t. We may like to think that our searches are just quick queries, harmless and pointless inquiries known only to us.
Here is an AOL user whose searches tell a sad story (for sake of space, I have stripped out a large number of searches):
  • body fat calliper 2006-03-01 18:54:10
  • curb morning sickness 2006-03-05 08:53:23
  • get fit while pregnant 2006-03-09 18:49:37
  • he doesn’t want the baby 2006-03-11 03:52:01
  • you’re pregnant he doesn’t want the baby 2006-03-11 03:52:49
  • online degrees theology 2006-03-11 04:05:24
  • online christian colleges 2006-03-11 04:13:33
  • foods to eat when pregnant 2006-03-12 09:38:02
  • baby names 2006-03-14 19:11:10
  • baby names and meanings 2006-03-14 20:01:27
  • physician search 2006-03-23 10:20:04
  • best spa vacation deals 2006-03-27 20:04:09
  • maternity clothes 2006-03-28 09:28:25
  • pregnancy workout videos 2006-03-29 10:01:39
  • buns of steel video 2006-03-29 10:12:38
  • what is yoga 2006-03-29 12:17:31
  • what is theism 2006-03-29 12:18:30
  • hindu religion 2006-03-29 12:18:56
  • yoga and hindu 2006-03-29 12:32:05
  • is yoga alligned with christianity 2006-03-29 12:33:18
  • yoga and christianity 2006-03-29 12:33:42
  • abortion clinics charlotte nc 2006-04-17 11:00:02
  • greater carolinas womens center 2006-04-17 11:40:22
  • can christians be forgiven for abortion 2006-04-17 21:14:19
  • can christians be forgiven for abortion 2006-04-17 21:14:19
  • roe vs. wade 2006-04-17 22:22:07
  • effects of abortion on fibroids 2006-04-18 06:50:34
  • abortion clinic charlotte 2006-04-18 15:14:03
  • symptoms of miscarriage 2006-04-18 16:14:07
  • water aerobics charlotte nc 2006-04-18 19:41:27
  • abortion clinic chsrlotte nc 2006-04-18 21:45:39
  • total woman vitamins 2006-04-20 16:38:16
  • engagement rings 2006-04-20 16:58:37
  • high risk abortions 2006-04-20 17:53:49
  • abortion fibroid 2006-04-20 17:55:18
  • benefits of water aerobics 2006-04-20 23:25:50
  • wedding gown styles 2006-04-26 19:37:34
  • recover after miscarriage 2006-05-22 18:17:53
  • marry your live-in 2006-05-27 07:25:45
This woman goes from searching about pregnancy, to realizing that the father does not want to keep the baby, to researching abortion clinics, to researching whether she can, according to her faith, choose abortion, to dealing with a miscarriage. And at the end of it all, life goes on and she seems ready to be married.
What is so amazing about these searches is the way people transition seamlessly from the normal and mundane to the outrageous and perverse. They are, thus, an apt reflection of real life. The user who is in one moment searching for information about a computer game may in the next be looking for the most violent pornography he can imagine. Back and forth it goes, from information about becoming a foster parent to the search for incestual pornography. One user went from searching for preteen pornography to searching for games appropriate for a youth group. Others, spurned lovers, sought out ways of exacting revenge while still others grappled with the moral implications of cheating on their spouses. These searches are a glimpse into the hearts of the people who made them.
And now millions of Ashley Madison users have been outed in much the same way, except this time their actual names and personal information are sitting right there alongside their data. They have been exposed as people who went looking for adultery. And the whole world is sitting by, looking on with an amused eye. Spouses are searching through the data wondering if even their husband, their wife, may have been involved. Gossip blogs are combing the data looking for headlines.
One of the great deceptions of the Internet is that it allows us to think there are two parts to us, the part who exists in real time and space, and the part who exists in cyberspace. But events like this ought to make us realize that when you go online you display and expose who and what you really are. And who you really are will eventually find you out. God will not be mocked.
Publication date: August 24, 2015

The One Thing That Matters Most

One of my favorite things about the New Testament epistles is the personal moments, the personal interactions between the author and his audience. I love to read Paul’s “don’t forget the milk” list at the end of 2 Timothy. I love to read his warm greetings and remembrances at the end of Romans.

One great moment comes in 2 Timothy 3. Paul writes to Timothy and reminds him of the privilege he had as a young man. “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15).

Paul reminds Timothy of the two most influential people in his young life—his mother and grandmother (see also 2 Timothy 1:5). We learn that Timothy had had the distinct privilege of being raised in a Christian home, and Paul wants him to consider what this had done to him and in him.

What was it that Timothy’s mother and grandmother had done that earned Paul’s praise? What did they do that had made such a difference in his life? It was not having Timothy study and memorize his catechism. It was not teaching him systematic theology. Paul didn’t commend him for all the Bible verses he had memorized or all the songs he knew. He didn’t even mention Timothy having a male mentor or someone who took him under his wing. Those are all good things, but they are not the things that interested Paul here.

Paul says only this: That Timothy’s mother and grandmother had introduced him to the Bible, to what he calls “the sacred writings.” And the Bible had done its work in Timothy. The Bible had made all the difference. It had made Timothy wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. It had saved his soul and turned him into the man he had become.

I find this such a sweet and timely encouragement. There are so many ways in which I feel my failure as a parent. There are so many things I hear other parents doing and find myself wishing that I was doing them as well. But in Paul’s words I am reminded that my primary task as a father is to simply expose my children to God’s Word. Whatever else I do, I must do this. And I do. Day by day we read God’s Word together and week by week we hear it preached and taught together. As much as we can, we make our home one where the Word is present and honored.

I am more convinced than ever that nothing will make a greater difference in the lives of my children than this—than exposure to the perfect, powerful Word of God. If I do that, I am doing the right thing. I am doing the best thing. I am doing the one thing that matters most

4 Really Good Money Questions

I do not remember when or how I first came across the 4 questions that John Wesley proposed we consider when spending money, but it was probably in a Randy Alcorn book. Wesley believed in the value of introspection, perhaps to a fault, but understood that he was accountable to God for the way he used each and every penny. These questions guided him and I think they merit our consideration as well.

His first question was a foundational one. “In spending this money, am I acting as if I owned it, or am I acting as the Lord’s trustee?” In other words, he always wanted to check his own heart to make sure that when he took out his wallet, it was with an understanding that he would be spending God’s money on God’s behalf. He wanted to always remind himself who actually owned the money.

The second question was this: “What Scripture passage requires me to spend this money in this way?” He did not just want to know that the Bible allowed him to spend it that way, but actually required him to do so. He wanted to spend every bit of money in a way that God had commanded, not just permitted.

The third question he would ask is this: “Can I offer up this purchase as a sacrifice to the Lord?” Wesley wanted to be able to let go of anything he purchased and make it an offering to the Lord. He wanted to be able to say, “I made the purchase, I completed the sale, but I did it for you. It’s yours to use as you will.”

Wesley’s final question was, “Will God reward me for this expenditure at the resurrection of the just?” He wanted to know that when he stood before the Lord and this purchase was weighed in the balances, he would hear, “Well done good and faithful servant.”

Those are 4 great questions that bring biblical wisdom to bear on the way we use our money.

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