Friday, March 30, 2012

Family Worship by Joel Beeke (book review)

A few weeks ago Lindsay and I had the opportunity to attend the “Reformed Family” conference in Chino, CA. One of the speakers that we especially enjoyed was Dr. Joel Beeke, the president of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Michigan. During the conference he gave a presentation on family worship which was without a doubt the most helpful presentation I have heard on the subject in some time. After the presentation I bought a small booklet he authored on family worship, from which his conference presentation was taken. What follows is a summary of the material in this booklet. Lindsay and I were both challenged and encouraged by this material, and my hope in relaying it is that (1) families will be encouraged to begin or renew their commitment to worship together on a regular basis, and (2) families will get some help from a “seasoned pro” on how to do family worship and how to navigate the many practical difficulties that often surround it.

Family Worship by Joel Beeke

Dr. Beeke divides his booklet into five sections: (1) Theological Foundations for Family Worship; (2) The Duty of Family Worship; (3) Implementing Family Worship; (4) Objections Against Family Worship; and (5) Motivations for Family Worship.

Theological Foundations and the Duty of Family Worship:

In the first two sections Beeke makes a biblical case that family worship is not optional, but commanded by God. He is concerned that one of the major reasons that current polls on the retention of children in the church are so dismal is because of the lack of stress on the vital importance of family worship. Fathers have the privilege and the responsibility (Deut 6:6-7; Josh 24:14-15; Eph 6:4) to lead their families in daily instruction in the Word of God, daily prayer to the throne of God, and daily singing the praise of God. He concludes: “We are more than friends to our children, we owe them prophetical teaching, priestly intercession, and royal guidance.”

Implementing Family Worship:

In this section Beeke gives practical guidance on how to “do” family worship. He breaks it down into three categories: (1) preparation for family worship, (2) during family worship, and (3) after family worship.

With regards to the preparation for family worship, he makes several suggestions:

1. Each child who can read should have their own Bibles in front of them

2. Use “helps” such as Bible commentaries, devotional books, Confessions/Catechisms to help you lead and plan the worship

3. Decide on portion of scripture to be read and memorized as family

4. Decide on the place and time for family worship. Make this a place that is as free from distractions as possible, and make every effort to not let anything interrupt you during this time.

Next, regarding what to do during family worship:

1. Be Brief. If you go too long it will be counterproductive and may provoke your children to anger. If you have younger children, 10 minutes may be the max. With older children you may be able to go as long as 20-25 minutes. He suggests 10 minutes for Scripture reading and explanation, 5 minutes for reading a daily portion of edifying book, 5 minutes for singing and 5 minutes for prayer.

2. Be consistent. Don’t allow for excuses not to do it. If you lose your temper, for example, don’t use that as an excuse to skip family worship but rather start the worship by asking for forgiveness from your family and leading them in prayer. Even when you are exhausted after work, pray for the strength to carry out this fatherly duty.

3. Involve every member of the family. Have your children take turns reading the scripture. Get them their own study Bibles with different explanatory notes that you can ask them to read as well. If you have a child who cannot read, take them on your lap and whisper a few words at a time so they can repeat it. Ask age appropriate questions to your family to encourage dialogue: 5 year olds should be asked 5 year old questions and 14 year olds should be asked a 14 year old question. Ask older children to think of possible applications to what you have read. (See objection # 5 below).

4. Bible Reading: be plain in meaning and help your family make applications. Don’t be afraid to share how a particular passage has impacted and shaped your own life. Be affectionate in your manner towards your family as you carry out this task, but require attention as this is God’s word and it deserves to be heard.

5. Praying: be short, simple, direct, natural, and varied.

6. Singing: teach them the great psalms/hymns of the faith

After family Worship:

Pray for God’s blessing on your family worship.

Objections Against Family Worship

In this section Beeke interacts with the common objections against family worship that he has encountered in his 30 years as a pastor and teacher.

1. There is no explicit command

a. Answer: See his section on theological foundations and the duty of family worship.

2. Our Family does not have time

a. Answer: If you have time for recreation and pleasures but not time for family worship, something is wrong. Time taken to seek God’s blessing is never wasted. He quotes Samuel Davies: “Were you formed for this world only, there would be some force in this objection, but how strange does such an objection sound coming from an heir of eternity! Pray, what is your time given to you for? Is it not principally that you may prepare for eternity? And have you no time for what is the greatest business of your lives?”

3. There is no regular time when all of us can be together

a. Answer: Even if all of your family cannot be together, do not cancel family worship. Change or cancel the activity that threatens worship, if possible. Family worship should be a non-negotiable in your home, everything else is secondary.

4. Our family is too small

a. Answer: Matt 18:20

5. Our family is diverse for everyone to profit

a. Answer: Have a plan for all ages. Read from a bible story book for little children; apply a proverb for the older ones; read a page or two from a book for teens. A wise plan can overcome a diversity of age. Remember also that (1) age diversity only affects about a third of worship - it does not affect praying and singing, and (2) you do not have to directly apply biblical instruction to every child present all of the time. As you teach older teens, litter children are learning to sit still. As you teach younger children, the teens are learning how to communicate biblical truth to younger children.

6. I’m not good at leading family in worship

a. Answer: There are plenty of resources that can help you. Also, ask for guidance from church leaders and fathers. Ask them to visit your home and show you how to do it or observe how you do it and make suggestions. Also, start simply.

7. Some of our family members won’t participate.

a. Answer: No family worship = No food.

8. We don’t want to make hypocrites of our unconverted children

a. Answer: An unconverted person may never plead an unconverted state to neglect duty. God may use this means of grace to convert them.

Motivations for Family Worship:

In this final section Beeke provides several motivations to encourage us in the duty of family worship:

1. The eternal welfare of your loved ones

a. God uses means to save souls. Most commonly he uses preaching, but he also uses family worship. Proverbs 22:6 makes this point. See also Psalm 78:5-7. We don’t know the secret will of God, but we do know that God binds himself to means. We are called to labor in hope.

b. Furthermore, the thought of children spending eternity in hell must be overwhelming to any God-fearing parent. Imagine also facing eternity having to confess that we have not seriously labored for the souls of our children. Fathers, use every means to have your children snatched as brands from the fire. Pray, teach, sing, weep, admonish, plead.

2. The satisfaction of a good conscience

a. Who can bear the reproach of a stinging conscience that condemns us because we failed to bring up our children in the fear of the Lord? What a shame to have failed to take seriously the vow we uttered at our children’s baptism to raise them in our concessional doctrines. How happy is the man who can say to his children on his deathbed “I do not believe that one of you will dare to meet me at the tribunal of Christ in an unregenerate state.”

3. Assistance in child-rearing

a. Family worship establishes closer bonds as a family.

4. The shortness of time

5. Love for God and his church

Concluding Comment:

If you are interested in getting a copy of the booklet, contact me by email and I will get you a copy. Also, for those who are interested in hearing the presentation, he gave it in essentially the same form at the Bethlehem conference for pastors a couple of years ago, available at the following link:

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Some Thoughts About Doubt and Easter

I don't know about you, but I find myself often skeptical - seeing is believing as they say (whoever they are). When a car repairman tells me I have a transmission leak, I want to see it with my own eyes before I authorize the repair! But when it comes to the resurrection of Jesus, God calls us to live by faith and not by sight. Or perhaps more specifically, God wants us to live by faith in the eyewitness testimony recorded in His Word.

Since Good Friday and Easter are almost upon us, let's think for a moment about one of the most fascinating and relevant stories in all the Gospel accounts of the resurrection – the story of Thomas. For some reason only the Gospel of John records this account, and really we don’t know much about this man. He is numbered among the 12 apostles in all the Gospel records, and the only place we see Thomas speak is two other times in John besides the well known account in John 20. But let's pick out a few important themes found there and make a few comments.

Thomas' Doubt

John 20:24–25 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.

One of the most interesting things is that Thomas was NOT present there on that Sunday evening when the disciples had all gathered together. They were probably gathered in part for fear, and possibly also for comfort after having endured all that had happened in those last few days. They had watched all their hopes go down the drain. They had witnessed the horrible death of Jesus as He agonized on the cross, an event that would have made the most stouthearted melt. All their thoughts of a king and a kingdom and a Messiah were dashed that Friday. Then the women come saying He’s risen, and indeed the tomb is empty, but there is real skepticism among them. It is important to remember that Thomas was not the only doubter! We call him doubting Thomas, but there is plenty of doubt to share among this band of followers:

Luke 24:10-11 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.

Matthew 28:16–17 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.

Yet Thomas' expression of skepticism is stark:

John 20:24–25 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

The Bible is an honest book, and here you see someone struggling with real doubt, fear, unbelief, even despair. Doesn't that help us to know that the Bible doesn't put fake people up for us to see? This is a nitty-gritty real life example of a broken person who needs grace. He is filled with doubt and unbelief – he’s acting like an unbeliever right now, and perhaps he is!

Jesus' Compassion

You might expect that Jesus would scold Thomas in this moment for his unbelief. But look at His compassion:

John 20:26-27 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

Where did Jesus get this information? He doesn’t miss a beat; He’s omniscient and knows Thomas’ struggle to believe, and knows exactly what Thomas said eight days before: "Unless I can touch His hand and side I won't believe."

Jesus isn’t harsh. He doesn’t criticize his desire for empirical evidence. He’s gentle and loving and compassionate with this man’s struggle and He seems to be saying "Come now Thomas, see the marks, put your hands on me – I’m flesh and blood. I have the marks from the cross on me." And don't miss the gentle call – "Be not disbelieving, but believing." As though Jesus is telling Thomas, "Put the doubt and the fear away my friend. Don’t reject reality any longer, for I am here and I will demonstrate to you that this is not a dream or a fantasy; I am not a ghost."

Do you need to hear this heart of Jesus today in your trouble, in your despondency about your own life and your doubts? Do you need to hear Jesus bearing gently with you in your skepticism about Himself? Do you recognize how gentle and patient Jesus is with our struggles, fears and unbelief? Jesus knows us; He knows our sin and weakness and knows our need. He bears with us in our stubbornness and slowness of heart to believe and our folly and rebellion. This account shows us how much Jesus loves Thomas in this moment.

Thomas' Worship

Thomas' response is stunning: "Thomas answered him, 'My Lord and my God!'” (John 20:28). What a confession! What a moment of pure unrestrained worship! Faith has come spilling out of Thomas at this moment. What is amazing is that Jesus does not refuse these titles! He doesn't say "Thomas don't do that!" NO - he receives his worship because it is proper! Thomas gets it finally and confesses with ultimate clarity that this is God in the flesh.

Jesus' Call to Faith

But you might say, "Yes, that’s easy for Thomas and the others to have said. They were there! They saw him face to face and felt and touched him – But that was 2000 years ago! How do you expect me to do the same thing when I am so far removed and I cannot have the same experience of seeing the risen Christ face to face?" That's a good question, and it is one that Jesus answers right here in the text:

John 20:29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

In this moment Jesus looks beyond this interaction with Thomas and focuses on all those of us who will not have the ability in this life to see what Thomas saw (the risen Christ in the flesh). Jesus commends non-seeing faith, and thus calls us to believe the witness of the Bible. Many search for empirical proof today and are like Thomas, saying that they would believe if they could see the evidence with their own eyes. But Jesus lays out the pattern for the rest of history but putting primacy on "those who have not seen and yet have believed."

We believe things on faith all the time. For example, I believe that there is actually someone in another part of the country who will send me a new battery for my cordless screwdriver if I just click a little button on my computer screen on Amazon. Why? Because of the testimony of others. When I buy something online I find myself drawn to buyer feedback in order to see if the person is a trustworthy seller. And if the feedback looks good, I believe the evidence and click agree to purchase.

We act on faith on the basis of testimony every day. So the problem with faith in Christ is not a lack of evidence, but a refusal to come of the cold and hand our lives over to Jesus. Is that you today? Then make today the day you lay down your doubts and come to Christ in faith and worship, repenting of unbelief and trusting Jesus for the forgiveness of your sin.

Or perhaps you know someone who is living with doubt and unbelief? This year, invite those friends to our Good Friday service (7:30pm April 6 at new Life PCA in Escondido) and our Easter service (Sunday April 8 at 10am) where they can hear the call to come to Christ and "Be not unbelieving, but be believing."

Praise God for the risen Savior!

Pastor David

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What is a Successful Youth Ministry? Part 2

In the last post, I defined a successful youth ministry in light of Col 1:28 as a ministry that helps equip youth to make a transition to mature Christian adulthood. But what are the characteristics of such a ministry? This is an important question that I will address in the next several posts. This post identifies what I believe to be the pivotal foundation of any successful youth ministry: Dependency on God’s Sovereignty and His Promises.

All church ministries, including youth ministry, should approach ministry with a humble confidence. Humble, first of all, because we recognize our complete dependency on God for any lasting success. Without God’s sovereign work in the lives of people, any ministry endeavor that is undertaken will fail to produce enduring fruit. As the Psalmist says: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1). Youth ministry must be done with the clear recognition that no program, method, formula, curriculum, or event will ever by itself produce growth and maturity in Christ. As Paul reminded the Corinthian church: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Cor 3:6). Nevertheless, youth ministry can be done with confidence because the Lord who is sovereign over salvation has given his church great promises that we can depend on. God promises that as we faithfully plant and water he will bring growth. God promises that his word never comes back to him void. God promises His church will never fail. God promises that generation after generation there will always a people on earth to declare his praise until he returns.

This dependency on God's sovereignty and promises have important implications for how youth ministry should be done. First, it highlights the central role that prayer must play. If only God can change the hearts of our youth, then we ought to spend just as much time interceding with him for every youth at our church as we do planning ministry activities. Second, it implies that we must stick to God’s plan for youth ministry and not come up with our own. In youth ministry it is sometimes claimed that God’s word does not address the methodology of youth ministry and therefore churches are free to do “whatever works.” As a result, contemporary youth ministry is often innovative, centered around the latest cultural trend, and rapidly changing. Whatever is “cool” in culture is “Christianized” and brought into the service of youth ministry in an effort to be relevant. I completely disagree with the assumptions behind these innovative approaches. The Bible is not a handbook on youth ministry, but neither is God silent on youth ministry. God has given us a broad outline of how youth ministry should be accomplished, he has provided “tracks” on which the church should operate. Our responsibility is to run our ministry on his tracks and not our own ideas of what works.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What is a Successful Youth Ministry?

This is the first in a series of posts exploring the biblical foundations of a successful youth ministry. In this first post I consider the important question of “What is it that makes a youth ministry ‘successful?'”

In answering this question I believe Christians today face a real temptation to judge the “success” of a youth ministry by the wrong criteria. First and foremost on this list would be the “Numbers criteria” - how many youth show up? Closely related is the “Program Criteria” - how many different programs does the church offer for the youth? These two criteria can often dominate the discussion when a youth ministry is being evaluated. The more kids that show up routinely to youth group and the more “stuff” the church is able to provide for the kids, the more “successful” the ministry is perceived to be. Larger churches that can boast of separate youth centers, state of the art equipment, and large numbers of youth packing the house weekly are considered the epitome of “success.” On the flip side, smaller churches which lack financial resources and have smaller numbers of youth are considered sub-par in their youth ministry. As a result, parents, parishioners, and pastors in smaller churches often operate with a perpetual sense of failure and are tempted to be envious of the large church programs down the street - “If we only had the resources that “X church” does, then we could really do something!”

But surely this is the wrong way to go about evaluating the “success” of a youth ministry. Numbers and programs are not unimportant, but they are too shortsighted to be the criteria by which a youth ministry is judged. A much better (and more biblical) criteria is that of equipping. I believe that the ultimate goal of any youth ministry must be to assist the parents and the church (more on this later) in leading youth towards maturity in Jesus Christ (Col 1:28). A “successful” youth ministry is one that equips youth to make the transition into mature Christian adulthood, one that lays a foundation which endures the test of time.[1] A youth ministry that has 200 active youth may appear impressive, but if it turns out that 60-70% of these students leave the church once they enter college, has it really been ‘successful?’[2] The point is this: we must not judge the success of a youth ministry program by how many kids are involved and show up on a weekly basis. Churches need to look beyond these short-sightedness goals to the long term results of their youth ministries. What is happening to the youth once they leave? Have they been equipped to make the transition to maturing Christian adults, or were they merely entertained? Over the next few posts I will lay out the defining characteristics of a youth ministry that is focused on equipping youth.

[1] I am indebted to Mark Devries for this definition from his book Family-Based Youth Ministry.

[2] These statistics are unfortunately very accurate according to many recent polls. For one example: