The Law, the Gospel, the Christian, and an Opportunity

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Unfortunately, the law of God seems to have fallen on hard times.  When some hear the words, “law” or “commands” the words, “legalism” and “moralism” immediately come to mind. Yes, we should be on guard as we teach our children. In the past several decades, children’s Sunday school curricula and other Bible resources tended to promote a kind of Gospel-less moralism. But God’s holy, righteous, and good law and commands were not to blame. Rather, it was a misunderstanding of these in the context of the whole counsel of God, and in light of the Gospel. When asked about the role of the law, the Gospel, and the Christian, R.C. Sproul gave this wonderful summation:

“O how I love your law!” (Ps 119:97). What a strange statement of affection. Why would anyone direct his love toward the law of God? The law limits our choices, restricts our freedom, torments our consciences, and pushes us down with a mighty weight that cannot be overcome, and yet the psalmist declares his affection for the law in passionate terms. He calls the law sweeter than honey to his mouth (Ps 119:3).

What is it about the law of God that can provoke such affection? In the first place, the law is not an abstract set of rules and regulations. The law reflects the will of the Lawgiver, and in that regard it is intensely personal. The law reflects to the creature the perfect will of the Creator and at the same time reveals the character of that Being whose law it is.

When the psalmist speaks of his affection for the law, he makes no division between the law of God and the Word of God. Just as the Christian loves the Word of God, so we ought to love the law of God, for the Word of God is indeed the law of God.

The second reason why the psalmist has such a positive view of the law is that the law, by revealing God’s character, exposes our fallenness. It is the mirror that reflects our own images—warts and all—and becomes the pedagogue, the schoolmaster that drives us to Christ. The law does not drive us out of the kingdom but rather ushers us into the kingdom by directing us to the One who alone is able to fulfill its demands.

The most wonderful function of the law, however, is that it shows us what is pleasing to God. The godly man is the one who meditates on the law day and night (Ps 1:2), and he does so because he finds his delight therein. By delighting in the precepts of God, he becomes like a tree planted by rivers of living water, bringing forth its fruit in its season (Ps 1:3). Our Lord said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15), but we cannot show that love for Him unless we know what the commandments are. A knowledge of the law of God gives to us the pattern of loving obedience. If we love the Lord, we must also love His law. To love God and despise His law is a contradiction that must never be the profile of the Christian.

God gives us His law not to take away our joy, but rather that our joy may be full. His law is never given in a context of meanness, but in the context of His love. We love the law of God because God loves His law and because that law is altogether lovely.

 (www.ligonier.org, “Getting the Gospel Right: Interview,” originally published in  Expositor magazine, a publication of OnePassion Ministries)

 

Here is an opportunity for your family this summer: Discover the above truths about God’s law through our interactive family devotional guide, The Righteous Shall Live by Faith. Find out more about this resource here.

(Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

 

 

 

Key Qualifications for Teaching Youth

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Have you ever felt a call or burden to teach the youth in your church? Have you been questioned as to your ability because of your age–too old to relate? Hear these words from Sally Michael in her recent seminar “Teaching Youth and Engaging their Hearts”:

The first year I taught junior high students in my church, someone who realized that I was going to teach youth said to me, “Do you think you can relate to youth?”

Now reading between the lines, I think what this person was saying in a kindly way was…do you realize that you are a beyond middle-aged woman…you don’t speak their language, you don’t know the jargon of youth…in other words, you are just not cool.

My reply was, “Yes, I can relate to them because at the core we are very much the same. We are both sinners…in need of grace. And I am very well qualified to talk about that. We have more in common than we have differences.”

What is your basis of relating to youth in your church? Is it being “hip and cool”—knowing the latest teen slang, being able to talk about their music, knowing the latest video games?

We miss the boat if we think that this is what it takes to relate to youth. We can relate because we all have the human dilemma—we need a sin-bearer so we can be right before a holy God; we need grace to daily crucify self and serve others; we need the power of the Holy Spirit to resist temptation and to walk in righteousness…we need the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Teens can easily intimidate teachers who feel they must entertain bored students or “relate” on their level. But the key to teaching youth is not to be intimidated by them, to realize the serious call to teach significant truth, to pray for your students, and to genuinely love your students.

Our confidence is not in the words we speak but in our common identification as sinners and in the message of hope, salvation, and grace that we bring to sinful men. Paul understood that and is a good model to us in how to bring that message to the youth in our churches:

1 Corinthians 2:1-5—And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

We all come to the task of teaching and mentoring youth in weakness…and sometimes “in fear and much trembling.” But the heart we bring to that ministry is what defines our ministry—do we bring hearts of dependence on the Holy Spirit; do we bring humble hearts not trusting in our cleverness but in the power of the Holy Spirit; do we bring hearts burdened that their faith would rest on the sufficiency of Christ? 

(Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Parenting Thoughts from a Puritan

John Flavel

“John Flavel” by James Hopwood, ca. 1752-1819, printmaker, Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection

Last week, Tim Challies posted “8 Items for Christian Parents to Ponder.” Here is his very intriguing introduction to the post:

The other day, the old Puritan John Flavel took me out back and slapped me around for a while (metaphorically, of course). I have been reading his classic work The Mystery of Providence and he dedicates the second chapter to an explanation of why we need to worship God for his kind providence in our childhood…

Along the way he includes a brief but powerful section in which he exhorts parents in the duties they have in raising their children. He wants you, the parent, to seriously consider the responsibility that God has entrusted to you for each one of your children.

Here is a very brief summary of the 8 items:

    1. Consider the intimacy of the relationship between you and your children, and, therefore, how much their happiness or misery is your concern.
    2. Consider that God has charged you to tend not only to their bodies, but also to their souls.
    3. Consider what could possibly comfort you at the time of your children’s death if, through your neglect, they die in a Christless condition.
    4. Consider this question: If you neglect to instruct your children in the way of holiness, will the devil neglect to instruct them in the way of wickedness?
    5. Consider that if the years of your children’s youth are neglected, there is little probability of any good fruit afterwards.
    6. Consider that you are the instrumental cause of all your children’s spiritual misery, both by generation and imitation, by birth and by example.
    7. Consider that there is no one in the world more likely than you to be instruments of their eternal good.
    8. Consider the great day of judgment and be moved with pity for your children.

To put each of these considerations in the proper context and avoid any misunderstanding as to what Flavel is saying and not saying (i.e., he is not saying that parents are ultimate in their child’s belief or unbelief) read the ENTIRE article here.

 

 

Tell, Explain, Demonstrate, and Inspire

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Here is a great quote to ponder:

The mediocre teacher tells.

The good teacher explains.

The great teacher demonstrates.

The superior teacher inspires.

 William Arthur Ward

 

 

 

(Image courtesy of lobster20 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

A More Powerful Circuit

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A while back I read an article about embracing the use of technology in the preschool classroom at church. One idea related to the frightened, clingy child who doesn’t want to leave his parent and go into the classroom on Sunday morning. The high-tech solution for the teacher? Try pulling out your tablet (or smartphone) and show the preschooler a Bible-related app in order to woo the reluctant child away from the parents and into the classroom. Presto, the power of microcircuits to the rescue!

Well, I think I prefer the method that Mrs. Kanowitz used on my almost 2-year-old granddaughter last week. In a sense, it was high-tech, but the “circuitry” involved was much more powerful. Here is what happened:

As little Elizabeth was taken down the hallway toward her classroom, she did her “Take me home!” cry as she clung to daddy. At her room, after check-in, she wept and wailed some more as she was gently handed over to Mrs. Kanowitz, the nursery team leader. But Mrs. Kanowitz didn’t pull out a tablet or smartphone. Instead, she held Elizabeth in her arms and bowed her head and began, “Dear Jesus, I pray that…,” and then Elizabeth went into the classroom—and stayed the entire time. It was well with her soul.

Yes, there may be a place for technology in the preschool classroom. But Mrs. Kanowitz’ prayer on Elizabeth’s behalf did much more than any high-tech gadget could do. Prayer doesn’t simply distract a clingy, frightened preschooler. Rather, it calls on the almighty, sovereign, loving Creator of the universe to impact the very heart of that child.

(Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

The Power of Influence

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Quiz time for parents: Who exerts the greatest influence in your child’s life? How is that influence serving to shape your child’s life? Now read these important thoughts from John MacArthur from his article, “What Influence do You have on Your Children?”:

Christian parents today desperately need to own this simple principle. Before the throne of God we will be held accountable if we have turned our children over to other influences that shape their character in ungodly ways. God has placed in our hands the responsibility of bringing our children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and we will give account to God for our stewardship of this great gift. If others have more influence on our children than we, we are culpable, not excusable, on those grounds.

God has made parenting a full-time responsibility. There are no coffee breaks from our parental duties. This principle was even built into the law at Sinai. God prefaced His instructions to the Israelites with this solemn charge:

These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. (Deuteronomy 6:6–7)

That is God’s own definition of the parents’ task. It means parenting is a full-time assignment in every sense of the expression. No phase of life is exempt. Not one hour of the day is excluded. There is no time-out for the parent who wants to be faithful to this calling.

And lest you become discouraged by the enormity of this task, Dr. MacArthur ends his article with these words of encouragement:

You have a responsibility before God to use your influence with your children for His glory and their good. But the weight of their eternity is not on your shoulders—remember they’re not born morally neutral. God will use whatever means He chooses to draw His people to Himself. Pray He will use you in the lives of your children, and trust that He is faithful even through your failures.

Read the entire article here.

(Image courtesy of arztsamui at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

 

The Best Kind of Active Learning

ID-10022136One of the God-given means for influencing the heart and the will is to encourage students to be active participants in the learning process. Most people would agree that it is good for children to be involved in the learning process. Most of us could even give reasons why this is so:

  • Makes the lessons more interesting, and therefore helps child to pay attention (easy for their minds to wander if you are doing all the talking)—Students do not get bored if they are actively participating in the learning process.
  • Children will often remember the concepts longer if they have been involved in the learning process.
  • When children are involved in the discovery of knowledge themselves,  sometimes they can internalize truth better—discovering a Bible truth sometimes causes that truth to be embraced in the heart rather than just understood in the head

These are all true, but how to get children involved seems to be much more difficult to grasp. There is the total “hands on” approach where the child is actively involved in a learning activity, but often the result is that the child had a lot of fun, the experience was very time consuming, and while some of the subject matter was absorbed, very little real learning occurred. I think the problem is that we often confuse “activity” with “active learning”—by active learning, I mean, that the mind is active, not necessarily the body.

Please hear this correctly—I am not against children getting up and writing on the board, participating in role plays and demonstrations, putting together visuals—being active while they learn—in fact, we encourage that, especially in the younger ages but…

active learning goes beyond activity. Active learning involves children’s minds interacting with the subject matter; they are thinking—discovering, imagining, questioning, organizing, analyzing, evaluating, drawing conclusions, and applying the material.

If we just sit children down and tell them what to believe, they may not be comprehending, agreeing with, or internalizing the truth—and the same may be true if we ask them to act out a Bible story, retell a story, or recite a Bible verse

We want them to be able to look at a text in the Bible…carefully observe and rightly interpret the text; make real application of that truth to their own lives, and eventually respond in faith to that truth—embrace it, own it, live by it …and be willing to die for it.

When children are little, we must tell them much of what they need to learn—they are little sponges soaking up everything—but by fifth grade, when they can begin to think logically, we need to be dialoguing with children, asking questions, and expecting answers.

By leading children and youth logically through a series of questions designed to lead them to correct conclusions, we are encouraging them to discover what God actually says in His Word—our questions should teach them to observe, interpret, and apply the truth. The mind then becomes a conduit for the truth to reach the heart.

(Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Showing Compassion Far Away and at Home + Free Lesson

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The pictures and reports from Nepal are truly heart-wrenching! (Read Desiring God’s post, “Pray for Nepal.”) There’s so much death, destruction, pain, and suffering. As Christians, how should we to respond to those in desperate need? What kind of heart response and practical actions would demonstrate the love of Christ? How can we teach and train our children toward Christ-like compassion? In order to help parents explore these important questions with your children, we would like to offer you a free lesson from our curriculum To Be Like Jesus. It provides biblical texts, simple visuals, family-friendly illustrations, and suggested action steps that can be applied both in the home and far away—even as far away as Nepal.

Download the free lesson here.

(Image courtesy of cbenjasuwan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

 

Let’s Get Acquainted

The Children Desiring God team recently had the privilege of meeting with our ministry partners in the Atlanta, Georgia area for an IMPACT conference. Many were new to CDG’s vision, philosophy, and resources. There was a lot of information to absorb from the conference and take home to their local churches. And then there were all those curriculum resources to browse through and examine!

I thought it might be helpful to acquaint newer friends of CDG with an overview of our curriculum resources—what we call our particular distinctions. Children Desiring God curriculum resources aim to promote…

  • A  Big Vision of God

Our curricula aims to acquaint children with the incomparable majesty of the triune God by digging deep into His divine character as revealed throughout Scripture. We believe that children should be taught the beauty and grandeur of His manifold perfections. In completing our scope and sequence, children will have learned and explored, with increasing depth, more than 20 distinct attributes of God.

  • The Centrality of God in All Things

Every lesson in every curriculum aims to magnify the triune God above all—His name, fame, honor, and glory. We believe children will find their greatest joy when they esteem God most. Therefore, the lessons use language, illustrations, and applications that point children toward God-adoration. Furthermore, the curricula challenge children to see that every aspect of life is to fall under centrality of God and His sovereign rule.

  • Doctrinal Depth, Accuracy, and Clarity

We believe deep biblical truths and doctrines can and should be taught to children. Doing so requires teaching truths in an accurate, clear, yet child-friendly manner. To that end, every lesson in our curriculum is carefully reviewed by a highly qualified and experienced theological editor.

  • Faithfulness to the Gospel

The central message of the Bible culminates in the Person and work of Jesus—the Gospel—in which He brings sinners near to God. The Gospel is simple, yet amazingly profound, freely offered, yet extremely costly, and should be communicated as such. We believe this is best done by repeatedly drawing attention to essential Gospel truths found throughout Scripture: God is the sovereign Creator and Ruler, God is holy, man is sinful, God is just, God is merciful, Jesus is holy and righteous, Jesus died to save sinners, etc. Every lesson presents one or more of these essential truths, and every curriculum, as a whole, clearly and explicitly presents the Gospel to children.

  • A Serious and Sober View of Sin

In order to fully embrace the Gospel, children must first come to an appropriate understanding of the true nature of sin and the offence that it is to God’s holiness. Sin is no trifling matter. It is not simply a matter of “mistakes” or disobeying rules. Its consequences go far beyond a broken friendship with God. Our curriculum takes our total depravity very seriously, as well as God’s righteous wrath and condemnation. Therefore, lessons dealing with sin and God’s judgment use texts, illustrations, and explanations that convey these truths in an appropriate tone andmanner. Children are challenged to think deep and hard about their standing before God and Jesus’ call to repent and believe.

  • A Scope and Sequence that Aims to Present the Whole Counsel of God

We believe that in order for children to have a balanced perspective on God, His purposes, and how we are to respond to Him, they must be presented the whole counsel of God. They must see both the “big picture” and the particulars of Scripture. Therefore, our scope and sequence incorporates the following theological disciplines:

    • A chronological presentation of Bible stories—acquainting children with a historical overview of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.
    • Biblical theology—emphasizing the “meta-narrative” of the Bible, which follows the historical/redemptive work of Christ.
    • Systematic theology—teaching children the major doctrines of the Christian faith.
    • Explicit Gospel—giving a proper summary of the key essential truths of the Gospel.
    • Moral instruction—providing biblical instruction regarding God’s commands and ways, and our obedience to them.
    • Book studies—studying individual books of the Bible using inductive Bible study tools.

 Each particular curriculum will emphasize one or more of these disciplines during the course of the study, but through the entirety of our scope and sequence, we aim to have a balanced approach—not neglecting one discipline at the expense of another.

  • A Rigorous Study of the Bible and Training of the Mind

We believe that if children are to embrace and live out the Gospel, they must have a right knowledge of God and His purposes, as revealed in His inerrant and authoritative Word. Therefore, children must be taught to properly study and interpret God’s Word. Using an age-appropriate, step-by-step approach, the lesson format trains students to interact with the text using proper Bible study methods. This process begins in earnest in first grade and increases in depth and rigor as children age and mature. Furthermore, we incorporate an interactive teaching style, carefully laid out for teachers, that serves to develop critical thinking and reasoning skills aimed at a deeper understanding of the things of God and the ability to rightly apply the Word of God.

  • Age-Appropriate Visuals and Illustrations that Enhance the Learning Experience

Key truths are often more easily grasped and better understood when explained in conjunction with concrete visuals and illustrations. Our curricula offer numerous color visuals and suggested illustrations to enhance the learning process. In so doing, children are provided with opportunities to be actively involved in the lesson. These visuals and illustrations are age-appropriate, yet also treat the subject matter in an honoring manner.

  • Personal Application that Encourages a Proper Response in the Mind, Heart, and Will

Knowledge of biblical truth is not enough. We are called to rightly respond to the truth. Each lesson in our curricula ends by encouraging children to personally embrace and apply the truths learned. Through carefully constructed questions, we offer adult leaders practical, specific suggestions to challenge the children in their faith and spiritual walk. Our goal is to encourage genuine faith that is increasingly evidenced by love for God and spiritual fruit and good works. We also offer questions that specifically challenge unbelievers to consider the truths of Scripture.

  • Excitement for God’s Global Purposes

We desire that our children and students come to know, love, and actively participate in God’s mission among the unsaved and unreached. Every curriculum includes specific, age-appropriate components that focus on evangelism and world missions.

  • Maximizing Classroom Time with Biblical Teaching and Spiritual Discussion

We believe that time in the classroom should be structured to emphasize biblical teaching and application. However, depending on the age group and time availability, additional hands-on activities may be warranted. Therefore, each lesson suggests further optional activities for the classroom. They have been developed in such a way to either reinforce lesson themes or introduce some other valuable faith building endeavor: missions, Bible skills, Bible memory, etc.

  • Assisting Parents in Discipling their Children

We strongly believe that God has ordained parents as the primary teachers and disciplers of their children. The church is to strengthen and assist parents in this mission. To that end, we provide parent resource pages to accompany every lesson. Not only do these pages outline the Scripture and main themes presented in the lesson, but they also give suggestions for further spiritual discussion in the home, as well as simple activities to reinforce the lesson.

 

Great Story-Telling and Sound Doctrine

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Many years ago, I watched a movie that, in a sense, took my breath away. It had beautiful imagery, a storyline that gripped your heart as you were swept into the characters’ thoughts, feelings, joys, and sorrows. Soon ,I found myself even cheering the characters on as the story unfolded. That’s the power of great story-telling…and the danger also. How so? Because this particular movie told a story alright, but it was a story that, when examined by a discerning eye, was glorifying sin, unfaithfulness, and adultery!

The example points to the following: Great storytelling can be a great gift, or a great danger. This should especially be kept in mind when we use storytelling as a means to convey the narrative of the Bible to children.

A Gift

Great storytelling can bring the Bible alive, as it were, and encourage the mind and heart to be in awe of God as we see His ways and purposes unfold. Great storytelling can promote love and trust in the living Savior. It can stir up longings to follow Jesus and walk in His ways. In short, great storytelling can be used to convey and explain essential doctrines of the Christian faith by communicating them in a compelling, exciting, memorable, and comprehensible manner for children. The stories of the Bible “sweep them off their feet,” as God’s majesty and saving work is displayed. What a gift!

A Danger

Great storytelling can convey skewed, confused, or even false doctrine. How? By presenting the story in a manner that is so pleasing to the mind and heart—gripping a child’s emotions—that it leaves a lasting, but faulty impression regarding the essential doctrines of the Christian faith. Doctrines such as the true nature of God, the essence of sin, and the meaning of the cross become lost, distorted, or confused. Adults and children may so well love the way the story is being told, they no longer see and assess it in light of the truth. And, depending on the extent that the storytelling deviates from the clear words of Scripture, it can be downright dangerous.

So, teachers and parents: Yes, look for Bible resources that offer your students and children great storytelling, but make sure that the story being told really is great— that it aligns with the truth of Scripture!

Here are 5 things to look for in evaluating story-based Bible resources:

  • How much creative license does the author use in retelling the Bible story? In light of Scripture, could the events have actually happened this way? When pondering what might have happened, does the author use appropriate language such as, “Abraham might have been thinking…” “Esther may have said something like,…”
  • Does the way the story is told contradict clear biblical teaching in any way?
  • Does the story attempt to explain the message (the truth of the text), or does it tend to change the message?
  • Does the storytelling use child-friendly language that is careful to keep the biblical integrity of the text?
  • Is the story told in a way that takes into account the whole counsel of God? For example, a Bible story may be used to emphasize the love of God. However, is His love conveyed in such a way that does not negate the totality of God’s nature—His holiness, justice, power, etc.

With the above in mind, here is a very brief example that illustrates the above concerns. First read the actual text of Jonah 1:1-2(ESV):

Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” (ESV)

Here is how this same passage is communicated in a very popular and well-written (in regard to storytelling) children’s storybook Bible:

God had a job for Jonah. But Jonah didn’t want it. “Go to Nineveh,” God said, “and tell your worst enemies that I love them.”

How does this way of telling the story measure up to the “5 things to look for”? Is this a regular problem throughout the resource, or a “once in a while” occurrence? If it’s the latter, a parent or teacher can easily correct and explain this. But if it’s a regular problem throughout the resource, you may want to reconsider whether the resource is appropriate for your children.

Again: Yes, look for Bible resources that offer your students and children great storytelling, but make sure that the story being told really is great—that it aligns with the truth of Scripture!

(Image courtesy of digidreamgrafix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

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