Celebrate Advent at Home This Year!

child lighting advent wreathMy family and I have loved celebrating Advent since we arrived at Immanuel Bible Church.  To enter into a tradition of looking forward to the joy of celebrating Christ’s birth at Christmas even while anticipating His Second Coming has helped us keep Christ central to Christmas.

As Christian parents, we all want to keep Christ at the center of our families’ Christmas celebrations both inside and outside of church.  Advent is one way to do that.  Maybe you have been wanting to start Family Devotions…what a wonderful way to get in the habit of regularly talking about God’s Word as a family!

Here are several ideas and free resources for you to use in your own families’ Advent celebration.  Joy to the world–and joy to your family this Christmas season!

  • There are Advent wreaths available at Christian book stores, but there are simple, free instructions and ideas on page 2 of this Focus on the Family booklet from 2012.  Don’t let not having an Advent Wreath stop you from celebrating Advent at home!  You can still have a very meaningful time looking to Christ as a family without the wreath or candles.  However, last year was the first year that we used an Advent wreath at home and lit the candles almost every night and I can’t imagine not doing it now–it only added to the anticipation of celebrating Christ’s Incarnation as the kids would talk about how soon before the other candles were lit.
  • I encourage you to pick it right up again if you miss a night–or several nights because of the busy holiday season.  The general consistency of looking to Jesus in a special way together as Christmas approaches is what will impact your family!
  • The Jesus Storybook Bible is what we used with our family last year.  As this blog points outbaby jesus…there are twenty-one stories in it from the Old Testament—each ending with a paragraph that ties in to the imminent birth of Jesus—and then three stories from the New Testament leading up to (and surrounding) the birth story of Jesus.”  Celebrating Advent at home was as simple–and meaningful–as lighting the wreath, reading the story for that night, and one of us praying.  There is a free PDF from the same blog that lays the readings out from December 1st to Christmas Eve!
  • This year we will use Focus on the Family’s free 2014 Advent guide, “Journey to the Manger.”  Journey to the Manger Advent 2014It includes a full color printable poster with a Bible character our kids will tape on the poster every night of Advent, and of course a Scripture reading, prayer idea, “opener” and discussion for the family.  There are even printables for each day such as puzzles, that our 6 year old will love doing, that will further cement what he is learning–while the younger kids will benefit from the bright poster that goes along with the Scripture readings.  It won’t stop us from using it, but do be aware that there is one issue with this Advent guide: the first cut out to put on the poster is a cartoon picture of “God the Father.”  For that first day, we will color light on a paper to put on the poster instead of using that cutout, and explain to our kids how God lives in “unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16).  This aside, I can’t wait to use this Advent guide in our home this year!
  • I was excited to hear about a brand new devotional, “Prepare Him Room: Celebrating the Birth of Jesus Advent Devotional.”  Prepare_Him_Room_3D_Thumb__67756.1404693711.451.416This is written by the author of “The Gospel Story Bible,” which is an excellent children’s Bible that I have read in it’s entirety with my 6 year old.  There is even a video that you can watch explaining why the author wrote this Advent guide!  We will surely be using this devotional guide for Advent as my kids (currently 2, 3 and 6) are a little older, but it may be perfect for your family this year.
  • Nancy Guthrie has written an Advent devotional book, “Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room,” that is designed for the entire family–from school age children to teenagers to parents. [HT: Mike Pohlman]
  • If you have teenagers in your home–or would read an Advent devotional yourself, I encourage you to consider John Piper’s new “The Dawning of Indestructible Joy,” free from Desiring God.
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Another Reminder of Why I Love Camp Ministry

I have had the privilege of being the Junior Camp (5th-7th Grade) speaker this week at Camp Gilead.  gilead gold rushIt has been such a joy to teach God’s Word and preach the gospel to over 100 campers all week long.  My kids have also been having a blast.  It is so fun to see my kids enjoying many of the same things that I did when I was a camper: the Camp Gilead train, the pool, and laughing at the kids during the game times.  Here are some of the highlights of the week:

  • Seeing the Lord’s faithfulness at Camp Gilead.  My grandpa was involved in Camp Gilead as a pastor 50 years ago, and my mom attended as a little girl.  I went to Family Camp for 8 years and then worked here as a Counselor and Head Counselor for 4 entire summers during college.  This is my 3rd time to be a speaker for a week.  Each time I have come back, friendships with the full-time Staff are renewed, and I am encouraged by their gospel faithfulness and commitment to God’s Word!
  • Preaching to the campers.  Each morning chapel we have been looking at Solomon’s life, and learning what it means to follow the path of the righteous rather than the path of the wicked (from the book of Proverbs).  The theme this summer is “Gold Rush” from Proverbs 16:16, “How much better to get wisdom than gold, to get insight rather than silver!”  In the evening chapels we have been looking at who Jesus is.  In Jesus are “…are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:3)
  • Seeing 10 or 15 campers each of the last 2 nights stay after chapel to talk to their counselor about salvation.  Some children have asked Jesus to be their Savior this week!  That is worth all of the effort that goes into camp ministry!  We have also seen Christian campers being encouraged in their faith.
  • Seeing kids have fun.  It’s refreshing to see kids just being kids, having a great time dirtboarding, doing team competitions, mini golf, and even playing on the playground. In today’s world, kids need time to just be kids…and to focus on Jesus during the same week is an incredible opportunity!
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Alisha Friberg (counselor), from our church, sharing her testimony in chapel.
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Part of the “welcome wagon” on Monday!
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One cabin gets to sleep in this covered wagon and roast marshmallows outside each night.
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Alisha with her cabin.
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My friend Josh, the Maintenance Director, and I–I mean, Prospectors Pete & Paul–before teaching a Proverb at the start of each morning chapel.

Enjoy the pictures, and thanks for praying for this week!
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Come Along for a Summer Drive of Ministry!

A Congregational Meeting Report from Tim Counts, Pastor of Family Ministries, Immanuel Bible Church, Summer 2014

Will you come along with me for a summer drive? It’s a ride full of excitement, activity, and growth, but there are also many quiet moments of worship. Go ahead, buckle up, and I pray that seeing the Lord’s hand throughout the summer will move you to worship too!

Take a look in the rearview mirror. The summer started out for Family Ministry with PNAMU (Parent Night And Move Up), 10354738_330504107102031_8047478133074752950_na warm night in early June when parents and teenagers packed into our Youth Center to congratulate our graduating Seniors and play kickball together. Justin Reeves, our Middle School Coordinator, welcomed 10 new 6th Graders into our Middle School Ministry that night. I also held a meeting with parents while the youth were in Bible Study, focusing on purity resources for parents and teens.

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Vacation Bible School was the next major turn in the road, keeping Hilleary Sorenson, our Children’s Ministry Coordinator, busy. Immanuel hosted over 160 children throughout the week! We had about 100 Immanuel volunteers involved in some aspect of VBS. I summed up our week of VBS by say10428680_337456393073469_7726574387131980709_ning, “As a dad, thank you for loving my kids in such a Christ-like way. As a pastor, thank you for representing Christ so well to each child and family who came through our doors.” With as many children as the Lord has blessed us with at Immanuel, Hilleary has been doing other projects this summer such as opening up an additional nursery room for during Sunday Worship Services.

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The next turn was a sharp curve, as the week following VBS Immanuel sent a team of 5 High Schoolers and 5 adults to El Mirage, Arizona to help IBC missionaries Steve and Ruth Wilson. They held VBS, did work projects, and encouraged the young church through fellowshipping with the members and holding a special evening together with the youth ministry. I love how we strive to serve together as a church at Immanuel. We purposefully never called this a High School Mission Trip. I was thrilled to see 5 of our High Schoolers serving next to 5 adults from our church, some of whom did not know each other before.

arizona team 2014  arizona crafts

The last stop I want you to see in the rearview mirror is the one we took in San Diego, attending Camp Regeneration for the second time. It was another phenomenal week of fun, fellowship, worship, preaching, and even salvation. 10345826_362096433942798_6835289046598466938_nThis is what one of our High Schoolers said about his time of spiritual growth at Camp Regen: “as we continue ahead on this long, steadfast road, we can always look in our rearview mirror to see the memories we had at Camp Regeneration.  But, now, more importantly, we journey ahead toward the gates of Heaven where evil will be no more and where the good LORD prevails over all.”

 

10403433_365088750310233_7280110258558391790_n                   1908372_363497460469362_740389996751901274_n1551712_362333217252453_5837487520667561796_nYou can stop looking in the rearview mirror now and take a look at the journey Family Ministry is currently on. Any Sunday morning in August you can find us in the basement going through a book on how to study the Bible with parents and teenagers together, as we have been doing all summer. Ross LakeBut look over there at that sparkling lake! Justin Reeves, the Middle School Leaders, several parents, and 12 Middle Schoolers are on our Middle School Backpacking Trip in the Ross Lake wilderness area. They are being exposed to God’s creation up close, enjoying fellowship together, and thinking on how those who walk with Jesus are the ones who are “like a tree planted by streams of water…” (Psalm 1:3) Will you pray for them with me?

I am taking a week long detour to Camp Gilead 1040405_213260985493011_1222511728_oin Carnation, WA at the moment, preaching the gospel and teaching God’s Word to 200 5th-7th Graders, including nine Immanuel kids. This is the camp where Alisha Friberg has been a counselor all summer, and where a young lady very involved in ministry in our church and community was saved as a Middle Schooler.

Will you pray that the Lord will work in hearts, through His Word?

Lastly, let’s take a moment to look at the road ahead. By God’s grace, you can see a Marriage Retreat at Semiahmoo Resort with Dr. John Street page223_picture0_53dc005eeb94fon the horizon in October, and even before that, a six week adult Sunday School class on marriage. If you squint, you can see our Middle and High Schoolers doing a service project together on a Saturday later this Fall. There will be other ministry events, marriage counseling, a sermon on God’s call in parenting, perhaps a baby dedication, and even a wedding at Immanuel November 15! But Family Ministry is just one vehicle on this road. In fact, if you take a closer look, it is just one section of a giant bus that we are all on together, as the body of Christ at Immanuel. And, in the words of one of our High Schoolers, we know where this road is headed. “We journey ahead toward the gates of Heaven where evil will be no more and where the good LORD prevails over all.”

Family Devotions Are Not New

John Newton, one of my heroes of the faith, wrote the hymn Amazing Grace in 1779.  He also wrote many personal letters that we can learn from, including one answering a question about “Family Worship.”  Family Devotions, time set aside as a family to read the Bible and pray together (and sometimes maybe even sing), is nothing new because the call to raise our families in the Lord is not new.family devotions

Parents were seen as the primary disciplers of their children before Deuteronomy 6:7 was given to the people of Israel, and before the Apostle Paul instructed parents to raise their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” in Ephesians 6:4.  Newton explains:

I am afraid I shall not answer your expectations with regard to the particulars of your inquiry, concerning the most proper method of conducting family worship. The circumstances of families are so various, that no determinate rules can be laid down: nor has the word of God prescribed any; because, being of universal obligation, it is wisely and graciously accommodated to suit the different situations of his people. You must, therefore, as to circumstantials, judge for yourself. You will do well to pursue such a method as you shall find most convenient to yourself and family, without scrupulously binding yourself, when the Scripture has left you free…

…He requires us to acknowledge him in our families, for our own sakes; not because he has need of our poor services, but because we have need of his blessing, and without the influence of his grace (which is promised to all who seek it) are sure to be unhappy in ourselves…

…For it being every believer’s duty to worship God in his family, his promise may be depended upon, to give them a sufficiency in all things, for those services which he requires of them.

Happy is that family where the worship of God is constantly and conscientiously maintained. Such houses are temples in which the Lord dwells, and castles garrisoned by a Divine power. I do not say, that, by honouring God in your house, you will wholly escape a share in the trials incident to the present uncertain state of things. A measure of such trials will be necessary for the exercise and manifestation of your graces, to give you a more convincing proof of the truth and sweetness of the promises made to a time of affliction, to mortify the body of sin, and to wean you more effectually from the world. But this I will confidently say, that the Lord will both honour and comfort those who thus honour him.

I especially appreciate how Newton points out that no matter how inadequate you feel to lead Family Devotions, God has already given you what you need.  Also, there is no one set method–and it will change in your own family over time.  But the basics of being reminded of something from the Bible together as a family in your home, and praying together, is timeless.  If you don’t already have a pattern, why don’t you start with one night a week after dinner–tonight!

Source: Newton, J., Richard Cecil. (1824). The works of the Rev. John Newton (Vol. 1, p. 153). London: Hamilton, Adams & Co.

See God’s Glory Through Your Children’s Eyes

This morning, I was sitting next to a 4th Grade boy and I witnessed something that made me thank God for the marvelous way that He has created children.  We need to learn from them.  Study_of_the_human_hand

I was in chapel at the Christian school that my son attends, and as we were singing before I got up to teach I noticed the boy next to me flexing his hand again and again.  It didn’t seem that it was hurting, but simply that all of a sudden he was fascinated with how his hand was made and how he could open and close it.  Then, just as soon as he had gotten distracted from singing to marvel at the intricacy of the human hand, he began to sing to the Lord again.  And I mean belting it out, eyes closed in worship.

As we sang about how awesome our God is, I was moved to thank God for the ways that we can see His glory through children’s eyes.  Children are naturally curious.  They are sponges.  This is why your 2 year old’s every other word is, “Why?”  They are constantly learning about the world, which is why it is so important that we are there and willing to take the time to point them to the God who created the world: “Young men and maidens together, old men and children!  Let them praise the name of the LORD, for His name alone is exalted; His majesty is above earth and heaven.” (Psalm 148:12-13)

maple leafI brought my 20 month old to the mailbox the other day, and as we walked back he stopped, fascinated with the way the breeze was blowing the leaves in the tree near our house.  I had never even noticed that tree there.  My 2 1/2 year old daughter and 6 year old son would have sat for over an hour on our front porch recently if I had let them, as they were enthralled with the trail that a snail was making across the step.

Do you have eyes to see the world the way a child does?  The human hand, the dark red of a maple leaf waving in the breeze, and the slow inching along of a snail all speak something of God’s glory.  He is a creative, omnipotent God.  If we have eyes to see, they are pointing us to Him.  Your children, grandchildren, or the kids in your class delight in the details that we as busy adults often miss.  Just as they point out these glories of God’s creation, we need to be ready to point them to the glory of our matchless God who created all of these things.

Why Camp Ministry?

This Summer will be my 15th year involved in leadership in Camp Ministry.  I believe in Camp Ministry.  Last summer I spoke at a Middle School Camp at Camp Gilead and then 2 weeks later led our High Schoolers on a 3,000 mile journey to attend Camp Regen.  Our Middle School Ministry is preparing for its’ second backpacking trip this summer.  And I’m getting ready to do it all again.

I guess you could say Camp Ministry is in my blood.  My grandpa, who used to be a pastor in Bellingham, was innovative in Camp Ministry in the 1960s.  He helped Camp Gilead continue as a Christian camp, and he led backpacking trips with youth from his church and the community when churches were not used to this type of ministry.  There are reasons that I love Camp Ministry and pour out my time and energy for it that tie into my biblical philosophy of ministry.  These reasons are deeper than tradition but tie into the same biblical reasons that my grandpa believed in Camp Ministry 50 years ago!

God Goes To Camp  Any time a group of people–any age–stop the busyness and extra noise of their daily lives and spend concentrated time in God’s creation, seeking Him through His Word and worship, God meets them.  “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)

Camp Ministry is a Gospel Ministry  I had the joy and privilege of preaching the Gospel & teaching God’s Word in chapel last summer at Camp Gilead. Almost always, at any camp, there are people who have never heard the Good News of Jesus. What an opportunity! Last summer when I spoke at Camp Gilead 5 Middle Schoolers professed Christ as their Savior for the first time.  The Middle School Coordinator I now work with is married to the director of a Christian Women’s Shelter who was saved at Camp Gilead as a Middle Schooler.  Need I say more about why I love Camp Ministry?

Christian Children & Teenagers Experience the Larger Body of Christ at Camp  Teenagers need to know that Jesus is bigger than their church, and even their local community. Time spent in fellowship with believers from other areas can strengthen their faith and challenge them in their walk with the Lord. I have friends today that still encourage me in Christ, who I only know because I went to camp in high school.

Camp is Purposeful Fun  Camp Ministry embodies what I believe a Youth Ministry should be:  Bible-centered, Gospel-centered & Christ-centered while having a blast!  Bringing youth to Jesus through the Bible and time spent in creation meets their need for salvation and worship of the living God, and fellowship through outdoor activities meets their social needs while helping them to experience true fellowship in the body of Christ.

An Open Letter to Immanuel Bible Church VBS Volunteers

Colossal Coaster World Logo 1Dear Immanuel VBS Volunteers:

Wow!  This year’s VBS can be described by the adjective in our theme:  “colossal”!  God has truly surprised us this week by showing us that He is the One “who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think…” (Eph. 3:20)  With over 150 children at VBS this week, it was sheer joy to minister to them with you and to watch your joy in helping them to have fun and learn about Jesus!

Teaching children God’s Word and sharing the gospel with our community in a kid-friendly way are great reasons to have VBS.  But I believe that another reason God blessed us with such a great VBS is to show Himself glorious through the body of Christ working together.  Our Children’s Ministry Coordinator Hilleary Sorenson worked tirelessly to plan all of the details, and you–65 of you at last count–stepped up to serve the Lord with such joy even as all of the classes were bigger than expected.  In fact, knowing that you were serving so many children and families from our church, from the greater Bellingham area, and from right here in our own neighborhood seemed to add to your joy.

I loved watching both young and old from Immanuel teaching, decorating, coordinating, leading, cooking, cleaning, serving food, doing tech work, photography, games, crafts, songs, praying, and simply loving children and families in a way that reflected Christ!

Ephesians 3:20 reminds us that God is able to do far more than what we ask for or think, because it is “according to the power at work within us.”  I saw the fruit of the Spirit pouring out of your lives this week as you served with the strength and the joy that God provides.  Thank you for all that you did, and join with me in praying, “…to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.” (Eph. 3:21)

For the fame of Jesus in all generations,
Pastor Tim