Why are Family Devotions so Hard?

 

It’s a new year with some new goals that you may have as a family. What are they? Maybe it is eating better as a family. Or, being a better steward of all that God gave you. Maybe one of those New Year Resolutions would be being better at doing family devotions. Maybe last year you wanted to do it and you had all of the best intentions but it just never happened. All resolutions are tough to keep going but I would argue the spiritual ones seem to be even harder because we have an enemy, the devil, that wants to distract you and destroy you. You may start out strong but stuff happens throughout the year and you find yourself asking, “we didn’t really keep it up, what happened?” Why are family devotions so hard? Here are a few reasons why.

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World Changer Recap

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As of today, I have been able to recap nine different men and woman who have made an impact in our world. They have been Martin Luther, John G. Paton, George Whitefield, Corrie Ten Boom, J. C. Ryle, John Bunyan, Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, and George Muller.  I have enjoyed the process of reading and learning more about Christians who have loved Jesus more than anyone or anything and who were willing to risk it all for him. I have enjoyed the challenge of trying to do it weekly in the process. I have grown in appreciation for those who are disciplined in writing consistently. Is there something to learn from church history? Yes, and  I would like to share a few thoughts on what I learned so far.

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The Joy of Reading

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It’s a new year and it’s time to start thinking of all those challenges you try to accomplish within the next year. I try to set a goal on how many books that I would like get through in a year. I didn’t come close to my goal for 2016 but I will still shoot for a similar goal just for 2017. I view a reading plan as a way I can have direction and encouragement without feeling obliged to stick to it knowing that there are some things that can happen in the year that may hinder reading.  One area that I am always wanting to grow in is not only the quantity of books but the quality of books.

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Being Thankful in All Circumstances

We have much to be thankful for. If we just take a moment, there are several blessings that we can be grateful to God for. But what about those moments when life is hard?

In the list of one-liners that Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 we find that we are called to be thankful in all circumstances, for this is the will of God.

Paul uses the inclusive word all. As followers of Jesus Christ, we should be thankful in all circumstances. John MacArthur says, “Thankfulness should be the fabric of your life as a Christian.”

Being thankful to God is more than just saying thank you with your words; it is the attitude behind it. David wrote in the Psalms, “I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart” (Psalm 138:1).

Really, there is no excuse for the believer to be ungrateful. Yes, we will face hardships and trials. Yes, there are the realities of sin which we are not thankful for. What Paul is saying in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 is that we as believers are called to be thankful in all circumstances, and even in tough circumstances we can be thankful.

How can we be thankful in all circumstances?

1) A heart that has been impacted by the gospel is a heart that gives thanks.

Being thankful is not just one for Thanksgiving once a year. Thankfulness is a reflection of a heart that has been transformed by Jesus Christ.

The gospel changes us. We are not the same. We are a new creation and the old has gone (2 Corinthians 5:17). We have received a new heart; the heart of stone has been removed and we’ve received a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). You were dead in your trespasses but as a believer you are made alive in Christ (Ephesians 2). Because of Jesus Christ, we do not stand condemned for our sin but forgiven (Romans 8:1).

No matter what happens, no matter what circumstance we are facing, we can always be thankful because of the work done on the cross through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

2) We need to reflect and remember God’s goodness and sovereignty.

Paul writes that we have this special relationship with God because of what Jesus has done for us. He says, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15).

The word Abba is endearing. It is equivalent to us saying Daddy. I love being a father and I love when I come home and my children run out screaming, “Daddy’s home!” There is this closeness; they are my children and I am their father. They can run up to me and say, “Daddy!”

Because of Jesus we are adopted into the family of God, sons and daughters, co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:16). As sons and daughters, we see God as our Father (Daddy) and we know He is good and in charge.

Paul speaks of what Christ has done, how we are set free from the bondage of slavery (sin), and are free in Christ. We don’t understand what is going on in the world but we do know this: we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

In this statement Paul points us to two things: God is good and He does good. What does good mean? Is it just the blessings and fruit when life is going well? No, even in the bad, God is still good. Even in the hardships, we know God is good. Even at the hands of evil, God can use all things for good and His glory.

I love the reminder that Corrie ten Boom shares in her book The Hiding Place. She and her sister Betsie were placed in Ravensbruck, the notorious concentration camp in northern Germany, because they were arrested for helping the Jews flee Holland during World War II. Eric Metaxes, in his book 7 Women, retells the story of when Corrie and her sister Betsie were placed in the horrific living conditions and barracks:

It was a foul-smelling barracks with overflowing toilets and no beds—just wooden structures on which they slept. The straw that was atop these structures was rancid and swarming with fleas.

Corrie was horrified but Betsie, as usual, responded with patience. She reminded Corrie of the Scripture they just read that morning, which was 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18. Betsie urged Corrie to do what the Bible says and to give thanks to God for everything in the barrack, their secret Bible, for the fact that they were hemmed into a building that was designed for four hundred people but now housed 1400 and to even thank God for the fleas.

Corrie’s response to Betsie was, there is no way even God can make me grateful for a flea. As Betsie insisted, Corrie relented and they thanked God even for the fleas.

After their hard day at the concentration camp they would always hold worship service in their barracks. The guards were present but never came in to stop them from their worship service. Corrie and Betsie always wondered why they never got in trouble for having a worship service and it turns out the guards would never enter into the barracks because of the fleas.

Even the fleas were used for good despite the tough situation. God does show His love and goodness to us because He is a good Father who is in charge of every situation.

3) No matter how bad things may get, God’s love is everlasting.

At the end of Romans 8, Paul gives us the reminder that nothing will be able to separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus. He writes, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35; 37–39).

What a great truth which motivates our gratitude; God’s love will never be separated from us. I can always be thankful because no one and nothing can rob me of His love that is found in Christ Jesus.

When we think about these truths, we can be thankful in all circumstances.

World Changer Wednesday: George Muller (1805-1898)

God’s Faithfulness on Display

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Drawn by Andy Gutierrez

I am always amazed at the type of people God uses to accomplish His will. He uses people you would not always choose. If you were picking people for a team to be used by God, George Muller would probably be the last one picked, yet God, who is sovereign, makes beautiful things out of the mud and knew that Muller would be the man that God would use to save upwards of 10,000 children abandoned in England.

George Muller was born in Prussia, modern-day Germany, in 1805. He was a student of divinity. Though he knew about God, he did not know the things of God. He may have known somewhat of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, but the gospel did not permeate his heart. He knew nothing of the ‪saving grace of God.

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World Changer Wednesday: Amy Carmichael (1867-1951)

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I am reminded of the fruit of the Spirit which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23). These are the reflection of Jesus Christ. We are to reflect Jesus in all things, and that is also in the fruit of the Spirit.

Not everyone may be familiar with Amy Carmichael or her writings but she is a world changer. There is a sweet vault of wealth that comes from the writings of Amy Carmichael. You read the spiritual riches that she possessed that came from her heart that was joined to Christ. Amy Carmichael is a world changer as she served the country of India by bringing the message of salvation to a dark place.

Amy served India for over 55 years, opening an orphanage and founding a mission in Dohnavur. She was a prolific writer, which includes many books of poetry, her testimony of the mission work, her biography, and devotionals.

My first hearing of Amy Carmichael was as a child in school. The story goes that Amy, who is the oldest of seven siblings, was born with brown eyes but wished she had blue eyes like her brother. She would often pinch his cheeks to make the blue in his eyes stand out. As an adult, she realized that God gave her brown eyes to help her gain more acceptance in India. I don’t know if this story is true. I couldn’t find a credible source either way, but she knew God had molded her and created her to be a vessel in India.

Amy was born in a small village in Ireland in 1867. She was raised in a God-fearing family. God equipped Amy with a strong personality. She left Scotland as she was accepted by the Japanese Evangelist Board, and sailed to Japan in March 1893. Once she entered Japan, she wasted no time going throughout the streets with a translator sharing Jesus Christ. She wore the native dress.

She entered India in 1895, where she remained until her death in 1951. Though her original goal in going to India was not to start an orphanage, God directed her steps. It started when a seven-year-old girl, Preena, came running to Amy to be rescued. Rescued from what? Her family was going to sell her to the temple where she would become a temple prostitute. Though dark, this was the custom in India and Amy would make her aim in caring for the children that were to be forced in this life. She would wear the dress of the culture, and dye her skin with coffee to make her skin darker in appearance to be accepted.

By 1904, seventeen children were under her care. It would continually grow. Amy soon was called “Amma,” which in Tamul means mother. At the mission, her job was to be a nurse to those who were sick, to teach the children the basics, and raise them up in the ways of the Lord. Though Amy never married or had children, God gave her many children to raise as her own. Through Amy’s life, she was able to help thousands of children and to this day, the Dohnavur Fellowship continues.

In 1931, she suffered a serious fall, which would change her daily life. Though not completely bedridden, she was very limited in mobility. She would never recover from this injury, and had another serious fall in 1948. This fall resulted in her being bedridden for the remainder of her life until the Lord brought her home. Through this season in her life, she wrote more than 13 books, which shows her diversity and knowledge.

Her Impact:

You may not be familiar with Amy Carmichael but once you read some of her writings it doesn’t take long to see her impact. Elizabeth Elliot, greatly impacted by Amy Carmichael, said, “With the exception of my parents, there is no one who has more deeply influenced my spiritual life than Amy Carmichael.”

Amy is known to have said, “Nothing is important but that which is eternal.” She lived by that mindset by counting the cost, leaving her home, and living in an unfamiliar place where should would be an example of Christ to them.

Amy never solicited funds from anyone. She never left India and never sought financial help. Amy was encouraged by the way George Muller trusted God for His provisions of the thousands of orphans that were under his care, and she had the same mindset with the ministry God entrusted to her. John 15:7 says, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” That was her motivation.

She had a mindset of prayer and had this motto with everyone who served in the mission:

1) We don’t need to explain to our Father things that are known to Him.

2) We don’t need to press Him as if we had to deal with an unwilling God.

3) We don’t need to suggest to Him what to do, for He Himself knows what to do.[1]

Amy not only left an impact with the thousands of children she rescued and freed from temple prostitution, but left a greater impact through the power of the gospel as many lives were changed forever.

She was in a dark land that was in the clutches of Satan, but we know God is in control and is greater. We must remind ourselves that when it may seem the darkest, light shines the brightest. God has called His church to infiltrate, and that is exactly what Amy did with her life.

She Teaches Us the Importance of Being Steadfast Until the Very End:

It would have been understandable for Amy to go back home to Scotland with her family at any point in her life, but she resolved in her heart that India was her home. I am reminded of what Paul wrote to Timothy in his last letter to his son in the faith. He said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7–8 ESV).

In one of Amy’s poems, she so eloquently portrays her steadfastness by saying:

From prayer that asks that I may be

Sheltered from winds that beat on Thee,

From fearing when I should aspire,

From faltering when I should climb higher,

From silken self, O Captain, free

Thy soldier who would follow Thee.[2]

Amy Carmichael is a world changer. As you read about her life, may it be a fan to your flame of faith as you serve the Lord.

Shadow and shine art Thou,

Dear Lord, to me;

Pillar of cloud and fire,

I follow Thee.

What though the way be long,

In Thee my heart is strong,

Thou art my joy, and song —

Praise, praise to Thee.[3]

[1] Wiersbe, Warren. 10 Christians Every Christian Should Know. Pg. 90.

[2] Murray, Iain H. Amy Carmichael: Beauty For Ashes. Pg. 26

[3] IBID. Pg. 116

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World Changer Wednesday: Hudson Taylor (1832-1905)

A Call to Forsake It All 

Drawn by Andy Gutierrez


Sometimes the Lord gives special insight to children. Hudson Taylor at the age of five that the Lord was calling him to be a missionary to China. During the nineteenth century, China was dark. According to tradition, the gospel was brought to China in the first century by the apostle Thomas. The first Christian church was erected at Xi’an in 638 but history points out that when the Tang Dynasty was overthrown in 845, Christianity seems to have disappeared until the thirteenth century.

Hudson Taylor’s life is one that should encourage Christians to step out in faith to fulfill the commands of God. His life’s work was motivated by the love of his fellow man. His heart’s desire was to see Christ glorified in the salvation of sinners, particularly the Chinese.

Hudson was born into a God-fearing family, but he was not saved until he was 17. From that time forward, he worked tirelessly to be prepared to go to China. Hudson Taylor is a world changer because he was willing to forsake it all to answer the call of Christ to preach the good news in China. He was a man who was resolved, who prayed fervently, and who left an impact. 

He Was Resolved:

Like Daniel in the Bible, who when taken captive by the Babylonians was resolved in his heart that he would not defile himself, so did Hudson Taylor as a boy resolve in his heart at the age of five that he was going to China. His philosophy was simple: There is a living God. He has spoken in the Bible. He means what He says and will do all that He has promised.”

Sharing the gospel with the lost in China consumed his thoughts and was his motivation in life. He would read whatever book he could get his hands on that dealt with China. He would go on very little food to prepare his body and mind to go without. He slept on the floor knowing what would await him in China and he started to learn Mandarin Chinese.

At the age of 21 he left without finishing school and made his way to China. It was not an easy trip. In fact, most would have thrown in the towel and headed back home. The trip took five months but in March of 1852 he landed in Shanghai not knowing anyone and barely speaking the language.

He did things differently. There were other missionaries in China at this time, mostly in the major city of Shanghai. They dressed in their western clothes and were not as ambitious with the gospel. Hudson Taylor thought differently. Instead, he put on the cultural dress of the Chinese at the time. He worked tirelessly on learning the language. He desired that they would have the Bible in Mandarin, and he desired for mission groups to be set up in all the provinces of China though many of the governmental leaders in China were against the work of missionaries. He was willing to be placed in danger for the sake of the gospel.

Hudson went without much and was spent for the gospel. As Jesus told apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). These words would be a sweet reminder for Hudson Taylor. 

He had resolved in heart to obey his calling in his life. He knew it was the Lord that brought him to China and it was the Lord that would sustain him every step of the way. Years later, even after the success of mission work in China, upon hitting other obstacles and the possibility of not being able to return to China (the borders would be closed to the gospel), he would reflect and say, “My soul yearns, oh how intensely, for the evangelization of the hundred and eighty million of these unoccupied provinces [in China]. Oh, that I had a hundred lives to give or spend for their good!” 

Mr. and Mrs. Taylor lost their daughter Gracie in 1867 when they were in China.

Another hard setback was during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 when several thousand Christians were killed. Many were Chinese Christians and some were even part of the Inland China Mission. This was very hard for Hudson Taylor to bear and as he was already suffering in age; it was hard for his body to handle the news of what was taking place in the land he longed for and the people whom he greatly loved. However, he would cling to God’s grace and sovereignty.

There were many pressures from the result of the Boxer Rebellion. It was a dangerous time to be a foreigner in China. The support for the missionaries was dwindling. Hudson Taylor had to constantly seek the Lord in England in asking for support. He was penniless and had hundreds of people depending on his leadership while they lived in dangerous China. He would be known to say, “It doesn’t matter, really, how great the pressure is. It only matters where the pressure lies. See that it never comes between you and the Lord—then, the greater the pressure, the more it presses you to his breast.”

It is true that it does matter how one responds to trials. When we are tested, our response should be to draw close to the Lord. 

He Was a Man of Prayer:

Along Hudson Taylor’s journey he was placed into situations where he could only trust in God for protection and provision. There are countless stories of God coming through for him, whether it was providing some income when it was needed or protection from an angry mob.

While facing difficulties he would write, “He wants you to have something far better than gold, and that is a helpless dependence upon Him, that He may have the privilege (the right) of supplying your needs day by day out of an unseen treasury.”

The Impact:

Hudson Taylor would travel all throughout Great Britain and the United States not only sharing his story and seeking support, but to raise up men and women who would answer the call as missionaries to China.

I don’t know if we can calculate the exact impact of Hudson Taylor, who is a world changer. He went to China by himself but at the end of his life there were 205 mission stations, 850 missionaries, and 125,00 converts in China. The Inland China Mission continues today as the Overseas Missionary Fellowship. Just like tossing a rock into still water, the ripples continue and grow wider and wider from the impact. His ministry has grown. Though China today may be closed to Christianity, it is thriving with many house churches and Christians who put themselves at risk for the gospel daily.

What is remarkable is that after World War II, the Christian church seems to have grown despite the rise of communism, and the church has remained underground. It has been estimated that today there are more than 100 million Christians now active in China. Where once China was the recipient of missionaries, China is now sending out missionaries to other places like America and Europe. 

Today there is still a need to go out.

Jesus has given us the Great Commission: to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:18–19). The main thrust of the passage in Matthew is to make disciples wherever we live but some will be called to missions. As Christian parents, we must count the cost even if that means our children one day leaving home and going overseas for the sake of the gospel (Luke 14:25–33). There is a need and there are still people groups in the world that are lost and need to hear the gospel. It is good for us to share the stories of men and women like Hudson Taylor and others who paved the way for modern missions. 

Recommended Readings:

• It Is Not Death to Die by Jim Cromarty

• Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret by Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor