“Is My Baby In Heaven?” Why I Believe God’s Word Assures Us We Can Say, “Yes.”

TMS baby picThis post first appeared on The Master’s Seminary blog.

When my wife first showed me the positive pregnancy test, we were overjoyed. Ecstatic. It was hard to believe that in 7 1/2 short months we would be holding our baby. A little person who looked like both of us, who would soon be calling us “Mama” and “Dada.”

Since I was a pastor several states away from family, we wanted to make this announcement really special for them. That Friday, we bought the books What Grandparents Do Best and What Aunts and Uncles Do Best to send in the mail. We planned to write notes to accompany the books over the weekend so they would be ready to mail on Monday. But Saturday morning, we were in the E.R. We were having a miscarriage.

If you received a call from a grieving husband like me, what would you say to the question: “Is my baby in heaven?” Too many Christians, and even some theologians, believe we need to be agnostics when it comes to this question.

In other words, it may be true that God saves babies. They say the attributes of God point us in that direction, but they believe Scripture is silent on the issue. Many parents are left to wonder where their baby is—not believing they can know for sure until they enter heaven themselves.

God does not want us to be agnostics on the eternal destiny of babies. Shouldn’t we expect that He would give us an answer to something that affects so many? I believe that God is clear in Scripture that He welcomes into heaven each baby who dies, born or unborn (Ps 139). And this extends to young children and the mentally disabled who die before they are able to understand salvation. God is not silent on this question.

When our miscarriage happened during our first pregnancy, I dove into the Scriptures to find comfort for my wife. But I had already found biblical answers for my mind years earlier. When I was a young associate pastor, while the senior pastor was on vacation, a new couple in our church went into the hospital to deliver conjoined twins. The babies died in their mother’s arms within a minute. When I went into the hospital room to pray with the parents and saw those tiny faces, I knew I needed to be more biblically sure of the destination of those babies’ souls.

That night I went home and read an entire book that I received at a Shepherd’s Conference, John MacArthur’s Safe In The Arms of God. It confirmed what I already knew from Scripture, but also gave me great confidence in the eternal destiny of infants, young children, and the mentally disabled who are unable to understand salvation.

Why do I agree with what Calvin stated in his Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, “It would be too cruel to exclude that age from the grace of redemption”? What Scripture passages can give you this kind of confidence?

GOD’S VIEW OF CHILDREN

God has special care for all babies, even the babies of unbelieving idol worshipers. As MacArthur explains, “God considers all babies to be His.” God condemns sinful child-sacrificing Israel in Ezekiel 16:21, “You slaughtered My children and offered them up to idols by causing them to pass through the fire.”

Some may object that this only applies to children who are part of God’s covenant people. However, Jonah 4:11 explains God’s mercy even on the children of a pagan nation: “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand…”

This would include both children and the mentally disabled who were unable to understand facts such as this. God takes ownership of these “innocents” (Jer 19:4), those who do not yet “know enough to refuse evil and choose good” (Isa 7:15-16).

JESUS’ LOVE FOR CHILDREN

If you want to see God’s heart for children, you need to look no further than Jesus, who is God incarnate. In Mark 10:13-16Luke 18:15-17, and Matthew 19:13-15 we see Jesus hugging little children (and even infants!). But these passages teach more than Christ’s tenderness or the fact that He wanted children to be cared for within the church and trained in His ways.

It would be inconsistent if little children who die before they can understand law and grace and sin and salvation go to hell. There is no other instance in Scripture of Jesus specifically blessing those who are destined for hell. William Hendriksen, in his Gospel of Mark commentary, writes that it is significant that Christ did not view them as “little heathen,” but rather saw them as being in the kingdom.

DAVID’S BELIEF

When David’s infant son dies, his servants are surprised that David gets up from his fasting and weeping once the child is dead. David answers, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live.’ But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Sam 12:22-23)

Some have said that David simply meant he would join his son in the grave. But that is no comfort! He was not just shrugging off the fact that his child had died, ready to move on. He was encouraged enough to want to worship, clean up, and eat! David knew that he would be in heaven forever after death (Ps 23:6). David also knew that this was the eternal destiny of his baby.

THEOLOGICAL REASONS

One major theological argument in favor of heaven as the eternal home of infants is that we are saved by grace, but damned by works. Whenever Scripture describes those who will inhabit hell, the emphasis is on their willful sin and rebellion against God (1 Cor 6:9-10Eph 5:5, etc.). Listen to the account of the Great White Throne Judgment: “And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books…And they were judged, each one according to his works.” (Rev 20:12-13) Infants, young children, and the mentally handicapped who have the capacity of children do not fully understand the difference between right and wrong, between God’s law and God’s grace, so they do not have willful sin.

This brief overview has given us just some of the main reasons to believe that a baby who dies goes to Heaven. The flip side of the debate—that babies who die go to hell—has very few people willing to explain their position and little if any biblical support. Spurgeon explained this in his sermon Expositions of the Doctrines of Grace in a way that only Spurgeon can…

There may have existed somewhere in some corner of the earth a miscreant who would dare to say that there were infants in hell, but I have never met with him, nor have I met with a man who ever saw such a person…we hold that all infants [who die] are elect of God and are therefore saved, and we look to this as being the means by which Christ shall see of the travail of His soul to a great degree, and we do sometimes hope that thus the multitude of the saved shall be made to exceed the multitude of the lost…I believe that the Lord Jesus, who said ‘of such is the kingdom of heaven,’ doth daily and constantly receive into His loving arms those tender ones who are only shown and then snatched away to heaven.

A week after I prayed with the parents of the conjoined twins, I received a phone call from their father who was preparing for their funeral. He asked, “Can you show me the verse that says that babies who die go to heaven?” I brought him to 2 Samuel and we talked about David’s hope of seeing his son in heaven. I brought him to Revelation 20 and we talked about how we are saved by grace but condemned by our sinful works. We talked about the fact that his babies had never done neither good nor evil but were saved by Christ’s great and quiet grace, because of His blood.

But I mostly talked with him about Jesus’ love for children and that He said that the Kingdom of God belongs to them. That is what he spoke about a few days later as he stood next to their tiny coffin: that he and his wife knew they would see their twins again because they knew that Jesus loved their babies. They were and are in Christ’s Kingdom.

If you are reading this because your arms are empty today, remember that Jesus loves the little children. If you trust in Jesus, part of the glory you will experience on the day you enter heaven will be meeting your little one again.

Oh, praise our Savior, because “little ones to Him belong!” Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves my baby. The Bible tells me so.

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Why We Actively Support a Local “Crisis Pregnancy Center”

Each Spring since my family and I arrived in Bellingham for me to be the Pastor of Family Ministries at Immanuel Bible Church, we have joyfully participated in the Whatcom County Pregnancy Center Walk for Life. There are many reasons to share about why we do this, but let me explain a few:

1) God cares about every life.   “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb…Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” (Psalm 139:13-14) Every time that God talks about the unborn or children in the Bible, it is positive. God is actively and personally involved in the unborn’s life—and the LORD calls them babies even before they are born (Luke 1:43-44, Jer. 1:5, Job 31:15, Is. 44:2, Job 10:8-12).

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The 2013 Walk for Life–with a few friends from our church!

2) Doing the Walk for Life is good for my kids. Our children are too young to understand abortion, but when we go to the Walk for Life and explain that we are there to help mommies be able to help their babies live, they understand that it is important. They also understand that our faith should not just be something we talk about, but something we try to act on as much as we can. We pray together before and after for the babies and their parents, and that they would find the hope of Jesus.

3) My kids being present at the Walk for Life is good for others. Whether they are people on the street that see us walking, or the single elderly man in our church who comes out to support the WCPC every year, having kids present at the Walk for Life is a reminder of why we are doing it. These are kids who were not aborted. There are children who should be in our community who are not because of abortion. In fact, the equivalent of this year’s graduating classes at both Bellingham High School and Sehome High School are surgically aborted every year just in our county—415 who would have graduated in the year 2033.

My wife Melanie and I actively support the work of WCPC because we care about what God cares about. After almost a decade serving in Youth and Family Ministry, we have known teenagers who lived with the regret of abortion and needed to understand God’s grace, and others who needed to understand God’s truth and grace as they were pregnant and needing encouragement to have their baby. The WCPC is a place where teens and women in our community that we would never have contact with on our own can go and hear both truth and grace.

Roe v. Wade happened six years before I was born. As Christians, we cannot let abortion become “white noise” to us simply because it has “always” been there. It is always the time to stand together for life. If a woman hears the Gospel for the first time in her moment of crisis and also decides to not abort because we raised pledges and arrived before 9am on a Saturday with our children in tow, then praise God! What a small sacrifice for a life and eternity-changing ministry.

As citizens of only four countries in the world that allow abortion for any reason after viability (North Korea, China, Canada and the U.S.), and as Christians, we must do something. In addition to the Walk for Life, Melanie has helped with a Baby Shower that our church hosted, attended the WCPC Annual Dinner, and I recently brought our High School Ministry to pray in front of Planned Parenthood and then pray in front of WCPC after a Bible study on what God thinks about the unborn. At this stage in our lives, we can’t personally be there to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the women and men who come into those doors scared and looking for answers. But we can support those who are the hands and feet of Christ there on a daily basis! And sometimes that is as simple as going for a walk.

*This article will appear in the WCPC April 2015 Newsletter.

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.

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.”

An Open Letter to Immanuel Bible Church VBS Volunteers

Dear Immanuel VBS Volunteers:

One of my greatest joys as the Pastor of Family Ministries at Immanuel is to work so closely with so many volunteers in ministries within our church. From Sunday School to Children’s Church to childcare to Awana to Indoor Park to Good News Club to Middle and High School Ministries to even parenting and marriage ministries, your joy in serving the Lord is contagious. And VBS this week was no exception!

It is one thing to volunteer simply to fill a spot, but it is quite another thing to minister to others out of an overflow of love for Jesus because of a deep commitment to the truth of God’s Word and the gospel. The children know the difference. The families can tell the difference. And I witnessed the grace and truth of Christ pouring out of your lives this week as you served the One who said, “Let the little children come to me.”

Gotta MoveIt is only in pulling together as the body of Christ that VBS can happen and have any lasting fruit. In addition to those of you who prayed at your jobs or homes or brought snacks, there were about 100 of you when all was said and done from last Sunday until Friday afternoon who were here at least one day if not all six days.

Under the excellent leadership of Hilleary Sorenson, our Children’s Ministry Coordinator, you decorated, coordinated, planned, cooked, cleaned, served food, did tech work, took pictures, shepherded children from station to station, took care of the babies of other volunteers, led crafts, led games, taught on missions and evangelism, led songs and motions, danced, taught God’s Word, prayed, and simply loved children and families in a way that reflected Christ! 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.

Let’s pray together that the gospel will continue to bear fruit in the 160 children (and their families) touched through VBS this week! As a dad, thank you for loving my kids in such a Christ-like way. They had a blast and I already see fruit in their lives because of this concentrated time of fellowship, fun, worship, and teaching. As a pastor, thank you for representing Christ so well to each child and family who came through our doors.

As we think back on a blessed week of VBS, 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

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.

Don’t Cover Up the Manger

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My wife and I had the joy of teaching Children’s Church on Sunday, and I loved the opening illustration.  As the children came into the room they took turns writing what they do to get ready for Christmas on the whiteboard.  As could be expected 10 days before Christmas, most of it had to do with presents.

Then Melanie read a list of some of the things we often do to prepare for Christmas and a prop was placed into a manger on top of a doll for each activity.  There was a cookie sheet, a little Christmas tree, a camera to represent the family photo, stationery, and of course several presents.

The point was not that doing activities to celebrate Christmas is bad, but rather that we can get so busy getting ready to celebrate Jesus’ birthday that we forget about Jesus.  He can get covered up by all of the details or traditions and be completely missed.

Isn’t this what the chief priests and scribes did in Matthew chapter 2?  They were so concerned with their traditions that even though they knew a lot about Christ’s birth, they didn’t go to see Him or worship Him.

All of those things in the manger in that Children’s Church room should have been outside the manger.  They should have pointed to Jesus rather than take His place!

This Christmas, don’t cover up the manger, but point to it. Because pointing to the manger points us to the cross. “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:21)

Advent Ideas for Families

child lighting advent wreathLast year was the first time that I had ever celebrated Advent at a church, and I loved it.  To enter into a tradition of looking forward to the joy of celebrating Christ’s birth at Christmas even while anticipating His Second Coming helped me keep Christ central to Christmas.  This will be the first year that my family is celebrating Advent at home as well.

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 instructions and ideas at the beginning of the Focus on the Family booklet below.  Don’t let having or not having an Advent Wreath stop you from celebrating Advent at home!  While I anticipate it adding to the fact that this is a special season, you can still do Advent readings together without an Advent Wreath at home.
  • 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 will use with our family this year.  As this blog points out, baby jesus…there are twenty-one stories it in 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 will be 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!  Our church will be using the Jesus Storybook Bible curriculum for Children’s Church after Advent, so using it at home during Advent will be another way to further connect church and home.
  • Focus on the Family produced an excellent, free Advent booklet last year, “Knowing Him By Name,” that focuses on the names of Christ throughout the Bible.  It is written for school age children and parents to do together, with a short reading each day and an activity.
  • 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 “Good News of Great Joy,” free from Desiring God.