Today I am kicking off a new “mailbag” feature. A year ago I introduced Letters to the Editor, a means for readers of this site to provide input and feedback. Now I am adding a complementary feature, an opportunity for me to answer questions you have asked. Today’s questions concern Sarah Young and her books, family devotions, family integrated churches, personal devotions, and reading.
Sarah Young and Jesus Calling
Have you ever considered contacting Sarah Young and finding out her perspective on her books personally? The Bible says that no one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). Ask her if Jesus is Lord. In Galatians 6:1 it says if anyone is overtaken in a trespass you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. If you are concerned with God’s Kingdom then for the sake of His kingdom shouldn’t you find out from her mouth personally if she is a heretic and then do a review based on your own personal research.
In a word, no. No to both of your questions: I have never contacted Sarah Young and do not believe I need to find out from her own mouth whether or not she is a heretic. (It should be noted that while I have critiqued her work in the past, I have never called her a heretic.)
I do appreciate your questions and admire your desire to follow biblical principles.The Bible has quite a lot to say about conflict resolution and it is a topic I have written about quite a number of times. Yet we need to apply biblical principles carefully and in ways consistent with the intent of the passages. In general, we find that the passages apply primarily to the local church and to real-world relationships. Matthew 18 and Galatians 6:1 are not speaking to or about an author who has released a book.
When someone releases a work like Jesus Calling or Jesus Always, we already know what that person believes—it’s right there in the book! Young is very clear (or, at least, she was in early editions of Jesus Calling—she scrubbed many of the most concerning claims in later editions) about the nature of her books, that they represent new and direct revelation from Jesus. Nothing I might learn from a conversation with her would change what she has already printed and released to an eager public. My concern when I review her books is not her motives but her actual words.
For more on this topic, I’d point you to D.A. Carson’s editorial on the use and abuse of Matthew 18 in a shrinking world.
I’m really struggling with trying to start a devotional after dinner with my family. I get nervous about even asking my wife the question of doing it, even though she’s a believer. She’s told me in the past that I am “way too theological” for her, and I think it has scared me from ever trying it again. Any advice?
When I hear that your wife said you are “way too theological” for her, I wonder if you owe her an apology. I wonder if you have looked down on her or expressed disappointment because she doesn’t have as great an interest in theology as you do. It’s possible that she is responding to genuine concerns, genuine sins, genuine hurts. One way forward may be to search your heart to see if this is the case and then ask her forgiveness.
With that said and done, I’d encourage you to begin family devotions anyway. There are few practices that will be of greater benefit to your family than spending time together reading the Bible and praying. It sounds to me like you have become convicted that you ought to begin them. If that’s the case, you need to heed your conscience here.
Let me offer just a couple of quick tips.
First, family devotions is not first about theology but about relationship—a family spending time together with God. I’ll assume you have a personal relationship with God—you read and pray privately. I’ll assume the same is true of your wife and older children. Family devotions is now a time for your family to join together in relationship with God. The purpose is not theology but relationship—relating to God by hearing from him and speaking to him together.
Second, begin simple and small. It’s easy to think you need to do something deep and complicated, that for the time to be meaningful it needs to be a half hour of catechisms and lengthy prayers. Start small. Read a few verses, comment on them or ask a couple of questions, then pray for a couple of minutes. As you build the habit you can adapt, you can lengthen them, you can make them more complicated. But you’ll have the best success building the habit if you keep it simple. We’ve been following Big Beliefs! by David Helm and have found it just right.
It’s impossible for me to imagine a scenario in which you would regret beginning the habit of reading the Bible and praying with your family. It’s easy for me to imagine a scenario in which you’d allow fear or pride to keep them from the blessing. You know what to do! (More on the topic: Why We Fail at Family Devotions and How We Do Family Devotions.)
Divided and Family Integrated Church
I greatly respect your honest evaluation of the bias Divided clearly portrays. While you point out the flaws in the integrity of the “documentary,” you also acknowledge the problem: young people leaving the church in droves. And you identify a less biased reason than Family Integrated Church, namely lack of gospel and hypocrisy. My question then: Is there a balance for a pastor (like myself) who agrees that family-centered study, worship and service are ideal without making the error of FIC and creating division? What is the solution if prioritizing the family unit isn’t?
First, a definition: A family integrated church is one in which parents and children always (or almost always) remain together for services and other activities. Said otherwise, it does not offer nurseries, activities, or programs in which people are separated by age. Family integrated churches tend to be aligned with NCFIC, the National Center for Family Integrated Churches. This organization was responsible for the film Divided and the heroes of the film were the organization’s spokesmen.
I am convinced that family integration reads too much into minor passages and, on that basis, makes a rule where no rule exists. Rather, in the absence of clear teaching, we have freedom to choose based on wisdom and preference. Problems and division arise when family integrated proponents suggest their reading is the only appropriate and obedient one. Further division comes in the way they define the terms—they use integration to speak of what they do and segregation to describe the common alternative—so where we might say our church has age-appropriate programs they tend to say we have age-segregated programs. That’s a way to win a discussion before it’s even begun!
When it comes to young people leaving the church, the solution will certainly not be based on a misinterpretation of Scripture. Yes, we need to prioritize the family unit, but I am not at all convinced that family integration is key. Rather, we need to teach our children rather than entertain them. In families and local church communities we need to instruct our children in the Bible and in Christian doctrine. For too long our youth programs have been focused on entertainment, on trying to make Jesus easy and cool. We haven’t trusted our children to have a genuine interest in spiritual matters and haven’t cared enough to deliver compelling answers to their big questions. Yet, from all I’ve experienced, witnessed, and learned, children do better when we treat them with dignity and instruct them well. They aren’t impressed when we set the bar low; they rise to the challenge when we set the bar high.
At Grace Fellowship Church we offer childcare programs up to age 5 during our morning worship service. When children are 6 they begin to worship with the adults. On Sunday evenings we begin our service together. Then the children leave for age-appropriate programs while the teens and adults pray. The youth meet together on Wednesday night for two hours of fun activities (yes, we still do fun!) and meaty teaching. We consider this a fair balance between teaching children the importance of corporate worship while still allowing much of the teaching to be at their level. (See Jacob Reaume and GotQuestions for good responses to family integration.)
What do your personal devotions look like? Could you provide some detail to your current “plan,” or the plan that you have most benefitted from? What do you do in terms of Bible reading, meditation, memorization, prayer, etc. Do you use a reading plan? If so, which has been most helpful? Do you use devotional literature? If so, which would you recommend?
Personal devotions have never come particularly easy to me and I don’t consider myself a model of doing them well. Yet I believe strongly in their importance and remain committed to them even while longing for a greater measure of that Piper-like passion for the Word.
My devotions are simple: I read the Bible and I pray. When and how I do this can vary a fair bit depending on circumstances—day of the week, early-morning meetings, travel, and so on. I also switch it up from time to time to keep things fresh. But when I am at home and in my best routine, it tends to go something like this: I get up early and spend a few minutes drinking a cup of coffee and getting the daily A La Carte article launched. By then I’m fully awake. I go for a half-hour walk and spend that time praying, with the PrayerMate app guiding me through a very conversational kind of prayer. When I get home I read 4 or 5 chapters of the Bible (using the Logos app on my iPad), following a 5-day-per-week plan that goes through the Bible in the year. I read this at a pretty good pace—it’s a plan meant to give an overall picture of the Bible more than to dive deep into any one part of it. Then it is time to get the kids up and do our family devotions.
That is my general pattern, but I keep it flexible. If I have an early-morning prayer meeting, I may count that as my daily prayer. If I have an early-morning meeting that involves driving, I may listen to that day’s reading in the car. I sometimes miss a day and the 5-day plan allows me to use Saturday as a catch-up day. But if I’ve kept up with my readings on Monday to Friday and have no reading on Saturday, I’ll read whatever I want. On Sundays I may read the sermon text or I may not read at all. Often I spend time later in the day studying a passage as part of my writing.
Hey Tim, have you ever written an article on how to make time to read? I would love to read more myself and was just wondering what you do to make the time to read as many books as you do.
I have, in fact. Here are 10 Tips to Read More and Read Better and 7 Ways to Read a Book. If I were to update my tips today, I’d add this: Read on a plan. I built the 2017 Christian Reading Challenge with this in mind. Sometimes we do best when we are reading with a purpose, reading to fulfill a challenge.
If you would like to ask me a question, you can do so right here.