Archive - March, 2016

Three Reasons Sunday School Should Include “Theological Study”

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Here are some common words/phrases included in describing the contemporary children’s Sunday school class: fun, exciting, relevant Bible lessons, engaging, loving environment, energetic worship, hands-on activities, faith-building,…etc. All descriptions that may be appropriate—to a greater or lesser extent—and definitely welcoming to many a parent and child.

But I wonder how many descriptions include some reference to “serious theological study.” Not for children? Think again. Here is a wonderful article by Pastor Jared Wilson titled, “Theological Study Is for Everyone.” (And yes, I think “everyone” applies to children and youth, too.) He gives three reasons why this is so. Here are some excerpts from the article:

  1. First, theological study of God is commanded. Having a mind lovingly dedicated to God is required most notably in the great commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). Loving God with all of our minds certainly means more than theological study, but it certainly does not mean less than that.
  1. Second, the theological study of God is vital to salvation. Now, of course, I do not mean that intellectual pursuit merits salvation. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone (Eph. 2:8) totally apart from any works of our own (Rom. 3:28), which includes any intellectual exertion.

…The exercise of faith is predicated on information…

…Our continued growth in the grace of God, our perseverance as saints, is vitally connected to our pursuit of the knowledge of God’s character and God’s works as revealed in God’s Word… 

  1. Third, the study of God authenticates and fuels worship…True Christians are those who believe in the triune God of the holy Scriptures and have placed their trust by the real Spirit in the real Savior—Jesus

 …We are changed deeply in heart and, therefore, our behavior when we seek deeply after the things of God with our brains. The Bible says so: “Do not be conformed to this world,” Paul writes. “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). The transformation begins with a renewing of our minds. As John Piper has said, “The theological mind exists to throw logs into the furnace of our affections for Christ.”

(“Theological Study Is for Everyone” at www.ligonier.org)

I highly recommend that everyone read the entire article!

(Image courtesy of adamr at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Do They Truly Believe?

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The Easter sermons and lessons have come and gone. Hopefully, our children and the students in our classrooms have been presented with a clear, compelling Gospel message in the past weeks. The sermons and lessons may have explicitly called upon our children to “repent and believe the good news.” And, Lord willing, there have been children who give evidence to true, saving faith. But here is a note of caution—not meant to cause despair—but to help us be discerning in order that we might guide and direct our children toward a biblical understanding of what it truly means to repent and believe the good news of the Gospel.

For example, consider these texts:

…“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).

As these texts and many others make clear, “trusting in Jesus” is not simply a one-time, mildly imposing decision. It is not akin to a life insurance policy protecting us against eternal damnation with the thought, “I’ll tuck the policy away in a drawer until I need it.” True saving faith will always be evidenced by continuing daily trust in His mercy and strength. It will also be evidenced by a deep desire and commitment to obey Him. For the Christian, the truths that “Jesus is my Savior” and “Jesus is my Lord and Master” are inseparable.

To the degree that God gives them understanding, even young ears and hearts must grasp these truths. In his excellent book, The Faith of a Child: A Step-By-Step Guide to Salvation for Your Child, Art Murphy gives us some help in assessing the spiritual comprehension of our children:

Children can memorize and repeat what they have heard their parents and teachers say, but that doesn’t mean that they understand it all. Neither does it mean that they are personally committed to those truths.

A few questions can determine where a child is spiritually.

  • Can the child explain in his or her own words the basics of becoming a Christian? When explaining how one becomes a Christian, does the child use “good works” answers such as “going to church, reading the Bible, getting baptized, praying, being good,” etc.? Or do his answers mention his need for forgiveness?
  • Does the child have an affection for Jesus or a strong desire to be close to Him? Does he show a passion to follow Jesus or just a basic knowledge of the facts about Him?

(copyright© 2000, pages 73-74)

Although not comprehensive or ultimately determinate, a child who does not see the need or the desire to daily follow Jesus and obey Him, may not truly understand the essence of saving faith.

Additionally, Pastor Dennis Gundersen offers these words:

How common will it be to hear a profession [of faith] from a child who is being reared in a Christian home, especially in a home where biblical instruction and exemplary godly faith is presented to him frequently, perhaps even daily, God giving your family grace! Should we then actually be surprised to hear him say that he believes the things his parents believe?…

In such a family climate, can it then be considered a remarkable thing that a child says he believes the gospel which has been held before him and taught to him for so long, in so many ways and with so many appealing evidences of its power? I think we would be shocked if he were to say that he did not believe it…So, it would be foolish to conclude that a child is saved merely because he makes the bare acknowledgement that these things are true.

Please then, parents: be wise enough to not speak assurances about eternal safety to your child’s soul based on such shallow grounds. Love your child enough to not be a misleading messenger to him, in ways that you would never mislead another adult professing the same beliefs. Is this not the most common deception, after all, among adults and children alike?—to presume that because I know and believe these facts, that I am saved. How many are among those multitudes who are presuming that a mere acknowledgement of the gospel, which never affects the heart and life, is enough? And of all persons, a child is perhaps the least equipped to know his own heart in this matter. Don’t help him fool himself.

(Your Child’s Profession of Faith, copyright©2010, pages 51-53)

Again, our child’s or student’s ability to fully communicate or articulate conversion is not ultimate in salvation—God is. But these words from these two pastors serve as very helpful reminders for parents and teachers to pray for and apply great wisdom when our children and students express a desire to repent and believe the good news.

(Image courtesy of arztsamui at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

 

Catechizing: Bring it Back!

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This week, I’ve had the privilege of getting a sneak-peak at Sally Michael’s new seminar, “Catechism: Out-of-Date, or a Tried-and-True Teaching Tool of Eternal Truths?,” which she will be presenting at our National Conference (a mere two and a half weeks away!). It is an excellent seminar in which she draws upon the time-tested wisdom of our Christian forebears. Here is one sample of one such man. Sally quotes John Murray from his article titled, “Catechizing: A Forgotten Practice”:

The foundation of all religion, Isaac Watts reminds us, is laid in knowledge. Scripture attaches great importance to knowledge and gives a foremost place to the mind and understanding. It is through the mind that truth enters the man, influencing the affections and directing the will. True it is that knowledge may remain in the mind and, without the influences of the quickening, life-giving Spirit, be inoperative in the life, yet the fact remains that knowledge—knowledge of truth—is the very basis of the Christian life. Hence the need for instruction in the doctrines of Christianity both for the believer and the unbeliever. Ignorance and error are effects of the Fall and it is upon them that Satan’s kingdom is built. Knowledge and truth are the grand weapons by which it is overthrown and Christ’s kingdom established in the individual and in the world.

[Murray] comments that the:

 …new antipathy to dogmas, creeds and catechisms virtually put catechizing out of the Church. Today we are reaping the results of that false approach to the Christian life. Ignorance and unbelief are rampant in our land, the Church is without an authoritative message, and often even evangelical Christians are weak and unstable. Is there not cause to ask whether the time has not come to revive the art and practice of catechizing?

(cited from the link found at www.monergism.com)

[Sally says], “I agree with John Murray. Let’s bring catechizing back to the church. Let’s not be afraid to teach the doctrines of the faith to our children. Let’s put a solid foundation beneath them that will give them answers to the assault of the postmodern worldview, and let’s arm them to face the challenges of life with a faith built on the solid understanding of who God is and the unshakable hope of His promises to His people.”

(Image courtesy of Paul at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Telling and Explaining the Story of Calvary

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In yesterday’s post, we talked about the importance of giving children a proper context in which to understand the significance of Jesus’ death on the cross. Namely, they must understand something of God’s holiness, wrath, love, and grace. But how can we do this without unnecessarily “weighing” the story down with lengthy, deep theological explanations? Here is one suggestion:

Before or after telling the story of the crucifixion—the actual events—provide the children with a summarized context in which to understand why Jesus died on the cross. This summary could include some of the following truths communicated in age-appropriate language:

  • God created everyone and is the ruler over everyone (Psalm 24:1).
  • All people are to honor God as their Ruler by loving, trusting, and obeying Him (Deuteronomy 6:5; 10:12-13).
  • God is holy and righteous. He never sins or does anything wrong. His commands and rules are always right (Psalm 119:137; Romans 7:12).
  • God’s commands show us that we are all sinners. We do not honor, love, trust, and obey Him as we should (Romans 3:20, 23).
  • Because God is holy and righteous, He hates all sin and is right to be angry at all sin. God’s wrath is His fierce anger at sin (Habakkuk 1:13a; Romans 1:18a).
  • God has decided that the right punishment for sin is death and hell—experiencing God’s wrath forever (Romans 6:23a; 2:5).
  • God is loving, merciful, and gracious. He is kind to undeserving sinners. He made a way for sin to be rightly punished and for sinners to be saved (Psalm 145:8; Ephesians 2:4-5, 8-9).
  • Jesus is God’s holy and righteous Son. He is fully God and became fully human like us. But unlike us, Jesus never sinned (John 1:1, 14; Hebrews 4:15).
  • Since Jesus is holy and righteous, He was able to be the perfect substitute for sinners (2 Corinthians 5:21).
  • God put the punishment of sinners on Jesus and poured out on Jesus the wrath He has against sin (Romans 3:25; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 John 4:10).
  • God offers the free gift of salvation to those who repent and believe in Jesus (Mark 1:15; John 3:16-17).

Interested in a resource that helps tell and explain the meaning of Jesus’ death on the cross?  Check out Why Easter? by Barbara Reaoch. Although written as a family devotional, portions could also be used by teachers in a classroom setting.

Calvary: Holiness, Wrath, Love, and Grace

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Yesterday’s post talked about the importance of not allowing the story of Jesus’ death on the cross to become a “flyover” as it were between Palm Sunday and Easter. But as we tell the story of the cross, we must also give children a proper context in which to understand what really happened. The crucifixion narrative is grounded in some huge theological truths. Consider this helpful statement from Jerry Bridges:

The love of God has no meaning apart from Calvary. And Calvary has no meaning apart from the holy and just wrath of God. Jesus did not die just to give us peace and a purpose in life; He died to save us from the wrath of God. He died to reconcile us to a holy God who was alienated from us because of our sin. He died to ransom us from the penalty of sin—the punishment of everlasting destruction, shut out from the presence of the Lord. He died that we, the just objects of God’s wrath, should become, by His grace, heirs of God and co-heirs with Him.

(The Practice of Godliness: The Practice of Godliness: Godliness has value for all things, 1983, page 24)

And this statement from David Wells:

 …without the holiness of God, grace is no longer grace because it does not arise from the dark clouds of judgment that obscured the cross and exacted the damnation of the Son in our place. Furthermore, without holiness, grace loses its meaning as grace, a free gift of the God who, despite his holiness and because of his holiness, has reconciled sinners to himself in the death of his Son.

(God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams, 1994, page 144)

Notice the words “holiness,” “love,” “wrath,” and “grace.” All of these words provide essential truths for understanding the story of Jesus’ death on the cross. Often, especially with children, we are tempted to skip over God’s holiness and wrath and jump right to His love and grace. But, as both men point out, God’s love and grace gain their proper meaning, richness, and depth in the context of His holiness and wrath. If children do not have a basic understanding of these attributes of God, Jesus’ death may seem like some sort of tragically unnecessary event, or we may risk minimizing their heart’s desperate need for a Savior.

Want some practical help to include these important themes in telling the story of Jesus’ death on the cross? Check out tomorrows post, “Telling and Explaining the Story of Calvary.”

Here is an excellent resource for your family or classroom: John Leuzarder’s book The Gospel for Children: A Simple, Yet Complete Guide to Help Parents Teach Their Children the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

(Image courtesy of bela_kiefer at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Leaving the Classroom Scratching Their Heads

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Do your students ever leave the classroom with more questions than they came in with? Do they ever seem perplexed by what they have just experienced? (No, I am not referring to the outcome of a disorderly classroom or a poorly taught, confusing lesson.) In fact, this apparent perplexity in your students might be a sign that something very significant is happening in the students’ heads and hearts. Here are some good words for teachers from Dr. Howard Hendricks:

Never forget that your task is to develop people who are self-directed, who are disciplined, who do what they do because they choose to do it. That’s why I suggest you spend more time questioning answers than answering questions. Our job is not to give quick-and-easy answers, patent-medicine solutions that never work in the realities of life. It’s far, far better to have students leave your class scratching their heads with questions they think and talk about, and with problems they’re eager to find solutions for in the week ahead.

Then you know you’ve got some education going on…be assured that it takes work to get people to work.

(From “Teaching to Change Lives—Seven Proven Ways to Make Your Teaching Come Alive,” copyright©1987, page 48)

What Are Your Summer Plans?

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With spring just around the corner, it’s not too early to start making summer plans…plans for vacation, plans for a garden, and maybe plans for a Backyard Bible Club or Vacation Bible School.

If you’ve never done a Backyard Bible Club before, just think of the possibilities before you. Every member of your family or small group can participate—inviting children, teaching a lesson, leading in singing, helping with crafts or games, providing treats, or just making sure everyone feels welcomed and loved.

Most Backyard Bible Clubs meet for five sessions. These could be five consecutive mornings or afternoons, or you could spread them out a bit. Invite neighborhood children, your children’s classmates, and the children of coworkers, friends, or relatives. Hold the club in your backyard or garage. Meet for as little as an hour, or as much as three hours, though we recommend an hour and a half. The group can be of any size and any age group, provided you have enough help from volunteers.

The Bible lesson is the main focus of the Backyard Bible Clubs, but you could include singing, games, crafts, and snacks. There are worksheets available to help the children to remember what they learn and apply it to their lives. And there are handouts to send home with the parents each time, providing an opportunity to share the Gospel with them as well. Hosting a Backyard Bible Club can lead to deeper relationships and more opportunities for evangelism, reaching whole families.

Backyard Bible Clubs are also used by churches for Vacation Bible School. Children Desiring God has four titles to choose from, each presenting the Gospel clearly and accurately to children in kindergarten through sixth grade.

Also, if you are able to attend our National Conference in Indianapolis, April 14-16, there will be a seminar at the conference especially designed for those interested in Backyard Bible Clubs and Vacation Bible School:

Using Children Desiring God Curriculum in Backyard Bible Clubs and Vacation Bible School
Deb Watters
Do you want to reach children in the church and neighborhood with truth that awakens spiritual interest and feeds spiritual hunger? Do you wonder whether the children in your VBS are missing the message because of a slick and entertaining production? Come learn how to implement Children Desiring God curriculum designed for Backyard Bible Clubs and Vacation Bible Schools. This seminar will encourage you with practical steps, testimonies, and ideas to tailor the curriculum to the needs of your church or community.

Finally, if you have any questions, please contact us. May the Lord bless you and establish the work of your hands as you prepare to share the Gospel with the next generation this summer!

(Image courtesy of nuchylee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Intellectual Faithfulness in Christian Education

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As preparation for my seminar “Engaging Active Minds in the Learning Process,” I’ve been reading some really inspiring and challenging books and articles, which have led me to believe that the problems of our day are greater than I first assumed. For example, in the introduction to his excellent book, “Essentials of the Christian Faith,” R. C. Sproul makes the following observation:

I believe we are living in the most anti-intellectual era of Christian history ever known…I mean against the mind.

We live in a period that is allergic to rationality…We have become a sensuous nation. Even our language reveals it. My seminary students repeatedly write like this on their exam pages: “I feel it is wrong that…” or “I feel it is true that…” I invariably cross out their word feel and substitute the word think. There is a difference between feeling and thinking.

There is a primacy of the mind in the Christian faith. There is also a primacy of the heart…

With respect to the primacy of importance, the heart is first…

However, for my heart to be right, there is the primacy of the intellect in terms of order. Nothing can be in my heart that is not first in my head. How can I love a God or a Jesus about whom I understand nothing? Indeed, the more I come to understand the character of God, the greater is my capacity to love Him.

(copyright©1992, page xix.)

Taking these thoughts a step further, Dr. Al Mohler lays out the great challenge before us:

Christian faithfulness requires the development of the believer’s intellectual capacities in order that we may understand the Christian faith, develop habits of Christian thought, form intuitions that are based upon biblical truth, and live in faithfulness to all that Christ teaches. This is no easy task, to be sure. Just as Christian discipleship requires growth and development, intellectual faithfulness requires a lifetime of devoted study, consecrated thinking, and analytical reflection.

(from, “The Glory of God in the Life of the Mind,” at www.albertmohler.com)

Those of us who teach children and youth are especially susceptible to this “feelings” focus. Why? Here are just a few things I have observed (and have sometimes been guilty of in some measure):

  • It is much easier to illicit positive feelings from children than it is to actively engage and challenge their minds. Fun music, activities, puppets, skits, etc. make the children “happy” during the class time.
  • This kind of rigorous training is hard work for both teacher and students, requires a greater time commitment from the teacher, and may even require some guided training.
  • We don’t want Sunday school to feel like school.
  • We fear that teaching and challenging the mind will necessarily lead to spiritually heartless intellectualism.
  • It may bring to the forefront innate inequalities in the students’ intellectual abilities, posing a possible threat to a child’s self-esteem. (I am not referring to children with specific learning disabilities here.)

Yes, these are all challenges to overcome, but they must be overcome. As Dr. Mohler asserts, “this is no easy task.” But an increasing amount of evidence demands that we take this lack of Christian intellectual faithfulness seriously.

Consider these statistics that author and parent Natasha Crain notes in her article, “What Your Kids Need for a Confident Faith”:

61% of kids who were involved in church as recently as their teenage years become spiritually disengaged by their 20s—not actively praying, reading the Bible or attending church.

This finding, based on the extensive surveys of researcher George Barna, is the alarm that has sent pastors, youth leaders, and young adult ministries desperately searching for answers. Multiple independent groups have since conducted their own studies and have identified the same trend—with some estimates of those turning away from Christianity as high as 88 percent.

Why is this happening? Having studied the various survey results in depth, I think it’s fair to summarize the collective problem in one sentence: A lack of robust spiritual training has resulted in a featherweight faith for many of today’s young adults, and that faith is being blown away by attacks from our secular culture.

Young people are turning away from faith because they’ve accepted the popular claims that Christianity is irrational, antiscience, intolerant, and based on an irrelevant ancient book. These claims have compelling answers from a Christian worldview, but young people aren’t leaving home equipped with those answers…Most kids growing up in Christian homes aren’t receiving anything remotely resembling the spiritual training they need to have a lasting faith.

(found at www.christianmomthoughts.com)

(Image courtesy of potowizard at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

 

What Our Children and Youth Can Learn from Jerry Bridges

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It was with mingled sadness and joy that I learned of Jerry Bridges’ passing at age 86. One of the great legacies he leaves behind that I have personally benefited from was his emphasis on the biblical call to a Gospel-centered, grace-fueled pursuit of holiness in the Christian life. Toward that end, his writings repeatedly direct our attention to a rich, deep, grand vision of God—a vision too often minimized in contemporary children’s and youth ministry. Here are a few of my favorite quotes from his book The Practice of Godliness—Godliness Has Value for All Things:

It is impossible to be devoted to God if one’s heart is not filled with the fear of God. It is the profound sense of veneration and honor, reverence and awe that draws forth from our hearts the worship and adoration that characterizes true devotion to God. (page 20)

In our day we must begin to recover a sense of awe and profound reverence for God. We must begin to view Him once again in the infinite majesty that alone belongs to Him who is the Creator and Supreme Ruler of the entire universe. (page 21)

In our day we seem to have magnified the love of God almost to the exclusion of the fear of God. Because of this preoccupation we are not honoring God and reverencing Him as we should. We should magnify the love of God; but although we revel in His love and mercy, we must never lose sight of His majesty and His holiness.

Not only will a right concept of the fear of God cause us to worship God aright, it will also regulate our conduct. (page 22)

The love of God has no meaning apart from Calvary. And Calvary has no meaning apart from the holy and just wrath of God. Jesus did not die just to give us peace and a purpose in life; He died to save us from the wrath of God. He died to reconcile us to a holy God who was alienated from us because of our sin. He died to ransom us from the penalty of sin—the punishment of everlasting destruction, shut out from the presence of the Lord. He died that we, the just objects of God’s wrath, should become, by His grace, heirs of God and co-heirs with Him. (page 24)

Now, think for a moment of our children’s and youth ministries—the Sunday morning classroom, the Wednesday night teaching and activities, and the various other programs. Do all these serve, in some measure, to encourage our children to be in reverent awe of God? Is a proper “fear of God” part of their classroom experience? Do we present the death of Jesus—the Gospel—within the context of both the love and wrath of God?

Parents and teachers: one of the great gifts we can pass on to our children and students is a life that magnifies and honors God by pursuing holiness and practicing godliness with increasing measure and joy. In this regard, Jerry Bridges was a gift from God to the church. May we raise up a generation of future men and women who follow his example.

Children Need a Robust Doctrine of God

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Imagine a preschool Sunday school curriculum that presents 64 chronological Bible stories from the Old Testament…all of them focusing on the character of God. Is there something wrong with this? Something missing? Doesn’t the whole Bible point to Jesus? Shouldn’t we make clear that every story points to Jesus?

Before you respond to these important and valid questions, I would ask you to carefully read and ponder this quote from J. Gresham Machen:

…when men say that we know God only as He is revealed in Jesus, they are denying all real knowledge of God whatever. For unless there be some idea of God independent of Jesus, the ascription of deity to Jesus has no meaning. To say, “Jesus is God,” is meaningless unless the word “God” has an antecedent meaning attached to it…We are not forgetting the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” But these words do not mean that if a man had never known what the word “God” means, he could come to attach an idea to that word merely by his knowledge of Jesus’ character. On the contrary, the disciples to whom Jesus was speaking had already a very definite conception of God: a knowledge of the one supreme Person was presupposed in all that Jesus said. But the disciples desired not only a knowledge of God but also intimate, personal contact. And that came through their intercourse with Jesus. Jesus revealed, in a wonderfully intimate way, the character of God, but such revelation obtained its true significance only on the basis both of the Old Testament heritage and of Jesus’ own teaching. Rational theism, the knowledge of one Supreme Person, Maker and active Ruler of the world, is at the very root of Christianity.

(“Christianity and Liberalism,” copyright©2009, pages 48-49)

Could it be that, especially for preschoolers, it is crucial that we first focus on giving them a concept of God as revealed in the Old Testament? By introducing them to key truths regarding who God is and what He is like, are we not preparing young children to better understand the significance of what it means that “Jesus is God”?

As much as it is truthful to say that the whole Bible points to Jesus and the Gospel, we must not dismiss or minimize Dr. Machen’s point. Our children need to be taught a robust doctrine of God. They need to see “God” as He has revealed Himself throughout the Old Testament—His power, love, mercy, sovereign rule, holiness, goodness, faithfulness, etc. These are the antecedents that give meaning to the New Testament’s assertion that “Jesus is God,” and they provide the necessary foundation for understanding the message of the Gospel.

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