Why Stay “Hitched” to the Old Testament?

Earlier this year, controversy swirled around pastor Andy Stanley when he said in a sermon that Christians should “unhitch” their faith from the Old Testament. In a podcast interview with Jonathan Merritt last week, he tried to clarify what he meant by expanding on his earlier comments. He said, “I am convinced for the sake of this generation and the next generation, we have to rethink our apologetic as Christians, and the less we depend on the Old Testament to prop up our New Testament faith the better because of where we are in [the] culture.”

But we see in Psalm 78 precisely the opposite:

Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth!
I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from of old,
things that we have heard and known,
that our fathers have told us.
We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done.

He established a testimony in Jacob
and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our fathers
to teach to their children,
that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children,
7 so that they should set their hope in God
and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments;

For the sake of this generation, and all the generations, we must tell them about the mighty deeds of God, including the ones recorded in the Old Testament. We must not hide them lest the children — the upcoming generations — be like their fathers, who did not believe in God and who were destroyed.

If we hide the glorious deeds of the Lord, and His might, and the wonders that He has done — the very substance of the Old Testament — we will cut our children off from one of God’s primary means for setting their hope in Him. In Truth78’s family devotional, Glorious God, Glorious Gospel, the chapter about knowing God’s promises answers the question, “Why teach children the Old Testament?” It says,

The Old Testament narrative is an amazing testimony to the faithfulness of God in bringing about His sovereign purposes. Throughout the varied stories, themes, and events of the Old Testament, we see one overarching storyline — the progressive revelation of God choosing and redeeming a people for Himself, a people who are to be set apart, “holy” to the LORD. A people bound, guided, and protected by the promises of God. Promises made by God are always shown to be promises fulfilled by God. God always does what His says He will do. No one is able to thwart His purposes. All creation, whether rock, water, bird, or man, serves God’s grand design and plans.

Why teach children the Old Testament? Because

it is within this context that they can better understand and appreciate the Gospel. The Gospel is the culmination of God’s promises and purposes for His chosen people. Every promise in the Old Testament provides an unshakable foundation for understanding and trusting in the Gospel. Every Old Testament promise points forward to the meaning and necessity of the perfect work of Christ. God’s good and wise providence over the people of Israel is the same providence acting to save His sinful people through the death of His beloved Son. Recounting these past promises is meant to give God’s people — children included — confidence for the future as we anticipate Jesus’ return, our resurrection unto eternal life, and the establishment of His everlasting kingdom.

Stanley hopes to downplay the Old Testament, thinking that will lead people closer to God. But doing that will block their way to God. And this effect will be most pronounced on children, the very ones God commands parents to tell.

Albert Mohler talked at length on his blog about what Stanley said and the many reasons believers should be concerned about it. He said Stanley’s apporach is not a new way of thinking about the Bible. It is very similar, he said, to the ancient heresy of Marcion, “who argued that the Old Testament must be repudiated by the church.”

So it is that every generation is in danger of failing to disciple the next generation. Though most believing parents still affirm the goodness of teaching the Old Testament to their children, we are no less in need of the warning, and hope, of Psalm 78. Our temptations to hide God’s mighty deeds from our children can take subtle forms. Whether it’s regular family devotions crowded out by the start up of school, sports schedules, and friends; the pull of entertainment, screen time, and endless electronic distractions; or the timidity of not knowing where to begin, we need to carve out and protect time to tell our children and the coming generations the glorious deeds of God.

It’s easy to read the history of the Israelites in the desert and wonder how they could be so foolish, so repeatedly disobedient, so ungrateful for all God had done for them. In light of their desert wanderings, it makes sense that God would warn them repeatedly not to forget Him and all His mighty deeds. But we are just as prone to forgetfulness and folly, to distraction and neglect. Writing in the New Testament, Paul urged the believers in Corinth to remember their history. Writing about the idolatry of ancient Israel, he said, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:11).

The Old Testament was written for our instruction. May we, by the grace of Jesus, in the power of the Spirit, and to the glory of God, heed His warning. And may we also glory in God’s mighty deeds, teaching them to our children so that they might set their hope in Him.


Wondering where to begin teaching your children the Old Testament? Glorious God, Glorious Gospel, the interactive family devotional, is designed to help parents instruct the mind, engage the heart, and influence the will of their children.

It answers the questions Who is God and what is He like? Why do I exist? How am I to act toward God? What is my greatest problem and need? What has God done to solve this problem? How can I be saved? and How should I now live? 

Each of the 15 chapters builds on the previous one, providing a logical flow of thought from the Old Testament (chapters 1-8) to the New (chapters 9-15). It covers the progressive unfolding of God’s redemptive plan so crucial for understanding the person and work of Christ, and presents a clear, succinct summary of the Gospel.

 

 

“More Sword Drills, Please!”

(with Jill Nelson)

The first time I heard our young grade school-aged sons say they spent some of the Sunday school hour doing “sword drills,” I wondered if maybe they’d had a guest speaker from the Army. I’m only half kidding. Not having grown up in churches that had Sunday school, I had to ask them what they meant by the term. They explained that the teacher would announce an “address” (chapter and verse) for a Bible passage, and then all the kids would hold their closed Bibles over their heads, and once the teacher said “Go!”, they’d race to see who could find it first.

“How did you do?” I asked, doubtful if they knew the location of all but a few of the 66 books of the Bible. Thankfully their classmates were willing to lend a hand to these newbies who likely weren’t sure which Testament Zephaniah was in or the difference between an epistle and an apostle.

Fast-forward a handful of years and now our younger sons are among those leaning over to help newcomers at the sound of “Go.” As a teacher in the fourth grade Sunday school class, I’ve realized that growing up in Sunday school is no guarantee that children know where the books of the Bible are located or the difference between “chapter” and “verse.” We have students in our class who have been in church from birth, who still struggle to know their way around Scripture. And I’m more convinced than ever of the importance of knowing.

Years ago, when Jill was teaching 2nd-grade Sunday school, she ran into some push-back when she tried to make the case for Sword Drills. She says, “We were just beginning to strategically and intentionally present our children with a God-centered, Bible-saturated focus in our Sunday school classes. In order to maximize our classroom time toward that goal, we began moving away from the regular and time-consuming crafts to which the children had grown accustomed.”

“Some of the teachers were concerned that this wasn’t the best thing to do. ‘Won’t the children be upset?’ they wondered. ‘Won’t they grow bored if we don’t have some fun, hands-on crafts each Sunday?’”

Instead of eliminating crafts, they proposed an experiment: doing crafts every other week, then, on “no crafts week,” working on Bible skills during what would have been craft time. “I taught the children how to do Sword Drills,” she said. “We even had Sword Drill competitions with boys versus girls or teachers versus the children.”

Over time, guess what happened? The children started to complain, about the crafts. “Mrs. Nelson,” they pleaded, “can we do Sword Drills instead of crafts?”

Yes, it is possible to get children really excited about doing Bible skills activities in the classroom. That’s not to say that doing crafts is never an option—especially with younger children. Even older children can benefit from a craft that is geared toward helping them visualize and better understand a particular spiritual truth. However, craft or no craft, knowing God’s Word is essential for the Christian life. And knowing how to navigate it—to find what you’re looking for, is among the most foundational lessons a child can, and must, learn.

Are you giving precious, limited minutes to crafting on Sunday morning? Consider how you might maximize your classroom time toward things that will have a lasting, eternal, impact on your student’s lives. Taking class time to teach children basic Bible skills can be as fun, interactive, and “hands-on” as any craft. It’s certainly more important. It may even prove more exciting. Just ask those second graders.


Want some ideas to get you started? Here is a list of Bible and Memory Verse Activities, as well as detailed instructions for leading Sword Drills, you can use in your classroom or home.

 

The Key to Effective Ministry to Children and Youth

Late summer is a busy time for children’s and youth ministry as church staff and volunteers gear up for the beginning of a new school year. And, increasingly, there are new and exciting resource options out there to consider—resources that claim to engage students in ways that are “relevant” to their particular age group, along with teaching methods and class resources that will keep students eagerly coming back week after week. There’s nothing wrong with that, necessarily.

Wanting your ministry and materials to be engaging and magnetic is understandable. But holding students’ attention should be the result, not the goal, of what you’re teaching.

In “Recovering the Priority of Personal Holiness,” Alistair Begg issued a challenge that applies to the popular notion that Sunday School should be primarily about giving kids fun things to do so they’ll be excited to come back.

…Let’s consider whether we have allowed contemporary culture to infiltrate our minds and hearts. Have we inverted Christ’s desire that the church be in the world by bringing the world into the church instead? If we take an honest look, perhaps we’ll discover that we are contributing to this trend. Rather than relying solely on the sufficiency of God’s Word, are we employing counselors in our churches who apply worldly methods of psychological analysis to address felt needs? Have we adopted worldly means to reach the seekers [or possibly some teens you know] who sit skeptically in the back pews rather than offering them the truths of the Gospel and the Christian life? Faithful teaching of God’s Word is vanishing. Are we among the number that have replaced preaching with elaborate drama productions aimed at entertaining?

Begg cites Puritan pastor John Owen who wrote, “If the Word does not dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us” (The Works of John Owen, vol. 16, page 76). Begg says, “…what gave John Owen success in ministry was not so much his oratory skill, nor his evangelistic zeal, nor even his love for the people he shepherded. John Owen was used mightily by God in all these ways because he was a man characterized by personal holiness.” He writes,

…Rather than devoting much time to developing innovative amusements for the worship hour, Owen made private communion with God a top priority…The Word of God is the means employed by the Holy Spirit to transform us into the image of Christ, so if preaching and evangelism are to be effective, private communion with God in His Word must be more important than discovering the latest ministry technique.

Begg’s excellent article challenged me, as a teacher, to ask myself, How do I prepare for the upcoming Sunday school hour?

  • Do I prioritize private communion with God over and above time spent developing innovative amusements for the Sunday school hour?
  • Do I meditate on the Word of God as the means the Holy Spirit employs to transform me into the image of Christ?

It is only through God’s transforming work that our teaching will flow out of personal holiness. And such is the teaching that will penetrate the hearts of young sinners in need of grace; something no ministry technique can ever do.

It is the power of God’s Word, not a popular curriculum or new-fangled teaching approach, that will change the hearts of your students. What might God be pleased to do this coming year if we were to recover the priority of personal holiness in our ministry to children and youth?

Praying big and bold prayers for the next generations

How are you praying for the next generation?

Over the past several months we are concentrating our prayers on the larger purposes of God for our children, our grandchildren, the children in our church, and the children we have the opportunity to teach–the kind of prayers that we are confident align with the will of God and can be assured of His answers. For example, right now, the church where I serve needs about 90 more workers to volunteer in the next two weeks. Certainly we should not hesitate to ask God for those 90 workers, but we want to concentrate our prayers on larger purposes for which those workers are needed. The challenge for us has been to “seek first” these larger purposes for our children and trust God that all the other things (like the 90 workers) will be provided.

In my prayer at the Truth78 inauguration event this past April, I attempted to pray a “big and bold” prayer for the next generation. We are passing that prayer on to you in the hope that it will encourage you in your prayer for the children the Lord has brought into your life as well as children in your community and in communities around the world.

Lord, I pray that the truth that has been entrusted to us and the lessons we have learned will not be hidden from the next generation. Would you grant us every grace we need to make known to our children, even the children yet unborn, the path that leads to life?

Make us a generation of parents and educators and pastors and resource developers and publishers and writers and translators and supporters and partners who will teach them your ways and how to walk according to the truth, so that they might set their hope and confidence in you and not forget your works.

Give to our children, and to their children, souls that are anchored in heaven. Sustain in them a deep and substantial assurance of things hoped for like Abel and Enoch and Noah and Abraham and Isaac and Moses and Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah and David and Samuel and the prophets and all the saints who, through faith, obtained the promise.

Turn the hearts of the next generations away from the deceptive promises of sin toward the all-satisfying promises of God, who swears by himself, that they might be strong and confident and secure and ready and bold to lay down their lives for the sake of the ministry and the glory of God.

May our children live as sojourners who desire you, and all that you have promised, more than they desire money, more than sex, more than power, more than popularity, more than anything else. Give them faith to be strong and faith to be weak. Faith to be married and faith to be single. Faith to have children and faith to be childless. Faith to be wealthy and faith to be poor. Give them faith—that can stand even when crisis comes and when tragedy strikes.

May they never lose sight of the reality that You are better than what life can give them now, and better than what death can take from them later. Give them faith to suffer willingly as they await something better than what this earth can offer. May their hunger for the superior worth of our glorious God be so great that bridges are burned to a hundred sins and a hundred fears.

May they yield to you as a father who disciplines those He loves and who comes to us painfully and mysteriously through the hostility of sinful adversaries and the natural disasters of a fallen world. Make them submissive to your sovereign, fatherly care and may they not grow weary or lose heart.

Help them lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles so that they can run the race that you have set before them, holding fast to hope—and holding firm their confidence until that day when your Kingdom comes in all its glory, and truth once and for all triumphs over sin and death and mourning and tears and all that hinders the everlasting joy that is ours through Jesus Christ.

Photo by ajay bhargav GUDURU from Pexels

Does Every Lesson Need to be a “Jesus and the Cross” Lesson?

Much has been said in recent years about teaching the Old Testament from a distinctly Christian perspective — seeing  Jesus and the Gospel in all of Scripture. But in this video, John Piper raises an important concern about turning this perspective into a type of simplistic interpretative formula. He says,

… the danger in making a beeline to the cross too quickly and too methodically and regularly is, number one, it’ll start to sound artificial. It’ll start to sound monotonous. It’ll start to be fanciful, because you’ll come up with really clever ways of doing things that aren’t really there and it’ll keep you from seeing important things that are there.

I believe Pastor John’s concern needs thoughtful consideration. I fully share his appreciation for the renewal of Gospel-focused preaching and teaching in the church. As a Sunday school teacher and parent, I experienced firsthand the gospel-less, deadly moralism that characterized so much of children’s Bible curriculum. But with this wonderful renewed focus on Christ and the Gospel, comes a new pitfall we need to avoid when teaching children.

Piper’s example of Elisha and Naaman serves as an excellent example. We need to give our children and students the proper Bible study tools so that they can dig deep into the text — mining it for its treasures. This takes time. It takes step-by-step training. But by doing so, we are giving our children a priceless gift; a gift that will serve them for a lifetime and will provide a wonderfully rich foundation for making them wise for salvation through faith in Christ.

At Truth78, we structure our lessons to foster these essential Bible study tools. We slowly and carefully lead children to discover the meaning of the text — asking questions, looking at context, drawing conclusions, etc. Once we’ve done that, we then point the students toward Christian application. In a lesson on Elisha and Naaman we might ask:  What does this story tell us about God’s character? What do we learn about man’s heart? How does the text apply to your own heart and life? Do you ever have a proud spirit? What does this look like? Is this pleasing to God? Why not? Has God provided us with an even greater blessing than physical healing? What is it? What does God call us to do in order to receive salvation through Jesus? etc.

This approach is more time-consuming in the classroom. And it requires teachers and parents to take the long view: We’re introducing children to the God of the Bible — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We’re helping build a solid Gospel foundation beneath them. We’re helping them learn to mine the immeasurable riches of the Word of God for a lifetime. We’re doing this because we want them to be able to “rightly handle the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

We may not be making a beeline to Jesus and the cross in every lesson, but we are diligently training children as we acquaint them with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:15-17).

As we teach the whole Bible, we pray the children in our classrooms and in our family rooms will be made wise for salvation so that they may, like Timothy, be faithful to continue in faith.

——————— 

To learn more about our approach to teaching the whole Bible, please see these resource:

The Theological and Philosophical Foundations of Truth78 Teaching Resources

The Great Story and the Single Verse by John Piper

Jesus in Every Old Testament Passage? Parts 1 and 2 (The author discusses the merits and cautions of a “Christ-in-every-passage” approach to studying and teaching the Old Testament.)


Video Transcript (lightly edited)

You asked whether every lesson needs to be a Jesus lesson. Like if you’re in the Old Testament with Elisha, does it always have to go to the cross? That was the gist of the question. And it’s the same with preaching. I just wrote a book on preaching and I’m concerned about this. The Gospel Coalition is evidence of a renewal of gospel focus in the church and a lot of pastors think you’ve got to get to the gospel even if you’re preaching on tithing or something. I would say the danger in making a beeline to the cross too quickly and too methodically and regularly is, number one, it’ll start to sound artificial. It’ll start to sound monotonous. It’ll start to be fanciful, because you’ll come up with really clever ways of doing things that aren’t really there and it’ll keep you from seeing important things that are there.

Let me give me give a quick illustration right off my front burners. I’m reading through the Bible, and this morning I’m reading in 2nd Kings 4 and 5, the story of Elisha and the leper Naaman, and Gehazi. Here’s the gist of the story. This little servant girl says, “You should go to Israel and get the Prophet Elisha to heal you from your leprosy, Naaman.” And he goes to his king [of Syria], and the king writes a letter to the king [of Israel], and sends Naaman, and the king [of Israel] says, “I’m not God that I can heal this leprosy” – which  gives you a clue what the story is about – and Elisha hears that, and he goes to the king and says, “I’ll show him there’s a God in Israel.”

Now that’s the point of the story: “I’ll show him there’s a God in Israel. Tell him to come to me.” He goes to him; Elisha won’t even go out the door. He sends a messenger out to tell this big shot from Syria, “Go wash in the Jordan, see you later.” This guy’s ticked and he will not go. Now I think we ought to teach kids “pride keeps you from getting blessings.” I think that’s in the text and intentional, because his sidekicks argue, “Look, he’s asking you just a little simple thing. Would you just humble yourself and do it?” And when he comes up out of the water, it says his skin is like the skin of a child. This is about childlikeness receiving blessings from God.

So that’s lesson one that you might miss if you say, “He got washed in the Jordan from leprosy; Jesus will wash you from a worse disease,” end of lesson. Not a good way to end the lesson and miss all the points.

Here’s the second point: As soon as he sees he’s clean, Elijah says, “I’m not taking any money for this. We don’t sell good news here.” Now you’re going to talk about gospel preachers on television with these kids, ok? “We don’t sell we don’t sell the gospel. I’m not taking anything from you — you go back and worship the true God.” Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, says, “that’s crazy,” and he runs after him and says, “My master said he did, by the way, want some clothing and some of your silver.” And he says, “Oh sure, give it to him.” And when he goes back, Elisha says to him, “Did you think this was a time for getting silver and clothing?” And Gehazi had leprosy for the rest of his life.

Greed. Greed and pride. The story is about greed and pride. And if we run to the cross from the dipping in the river, before we see the point of the story, and tell these kids, “You’ve got to be childlike, you’ve got to be humble, if you’re gonna know God, you’ve got to not love money, and if you know preachers who preach for money, they’re not real preachers.” You’ve got to say that. Now when you’re done you can say – I mean the three songs you sang at the beginning of  Sunday school might have been all about Jesus. That may be all you need. We’re about Jesus every weekend in this room. Nothing comes to you but with Jesus – if you say, “How do you become humble? How do you become free from greed?” Then you dig into sanctification, and the cross, and the blood, and the power of the Holy Spirit, and the glory of the Father.

So my caution with that movement, in preaching on Sunday morning, and in teaching kids is – there’s a real good impulse behind it because we’re not mere Jews and we’re not mere Muslims, therefore we shouldn’t read our Old Testaments and interpret them in a way that a Muslim and a Jew would be happy with our interpretation. Which means we’ve got to be Christian. And so you do get there. But how you get there – please, don’t miss the awesomeness of Deuteronomy or 2nd Kings.

 

5 Ways to Get More from Your Curriculum This Fall

Fall is fast approaching, which means many Sunday School and Midweek children’s programs will launch soon. Besides recruiting volunteers (often a huge task), there are many preparations that should occur well before the first day of class. Don’t lose heart. Some thoughtful pre-planning can go a long way toward a fruitful autumn.

Pray

This is a crucial component in all aspects of ministry. We need to pray for qualified, passionate, and caring teachers, small group leaders, and worship leaders. We also should pray for the curriculum implementation – for leader preparation (not only of the lessons but their own hearts), receptive hearts of the students, good communication with parents, etc.

Plan

Given time constraints, it’s helpful to know what’s most helpful for launching a successful curriculum cycle.

  • Order early to help this process go smoothly. (We work with a print-on-demand warehouse that takes 3-4 business days to print, package, and ship materials; shipping times are in addition to that.)
  • Read introductory materials in the Teacher’s Guide or Leader’s Edition to learn how to use and prepare the materials, provide suggested classroom schedules, etc.
  • Create a schedule (or spreadsheet) of what lessons will be taught each week, including the lesson title and memory verse. This will help leaders in their preparation, and doubles as a communication tool with parents so they know what to expect, or what was covered in case of an absence. The scope and sequence page in the preface of each curriculum is also a useful guide.
  • Think through classroom management before the year begins and share your plan with your teaching team.

Prepare Visuals

Preparing all visuals before the year starts decreases stress on teachers.

  • Laminate visuals to make them more durable for years of use.
  • Put each lesson’s visuals in a manila folder labeled with the lesson number and store them in a crate or file box. (Remind teachers to return them for future use.)
  • For the curricula with electronic display options, be aware of which visuals still need to be printed.

Organize Student Materials (Coloring Books, Workbooks, Notebooks, Student Journals)

These supplemental materials are a key component of the curriculum for moving head knowledge to heart application. They are helpful tools while leaders review, apply, and lead the children to further understand the lesson. (Consider giving leaders a copy of the workbook. At least in older elementary, it’s helpful for the leaders to go through the workbook ahead of time to make sure they know the answers.)

Partner with Parents

Parental involvement is essential for fruitful instruction. Decide on the best way to communicate with parents. You could:

  • Print out the Parent Resource Pages for the entire year (available in the resource files in the Classroom Kit). Put them either in the visuals folders mentioned above or use a similar system where they are readily accessible by lesson for the teachers to send home.
  • Email the Parent Resources Pages weekly. This is not only a helpful reminder, but ensures that the resource actually gets to parents.
  • Email a month’s worth of Parent Resource Pages with a newsletter sharing prayer requests and evidences of God at work in the classroom.
  • Send home spiral-bound GIFT (Growing in Faith Together) booklets at the beginning of the year (available for purchase for our revised curricula, and as the GIFT App).
  • Encourage parents to use these resources during mealtime discussions. Periodic email reminders about using them might keep the parents on task. Parents of multiple children might focus on a different child’s curriculum each day or each week.
  • Invite parents to participate in the classroom. For example, one teacher gave families an opportunity to be the “family of the week” to introduce parents to the class, find out more about the family and their child, and provide an opportunity for the children to pray for this family.

If you have any questions about using the curricula, please contact our Customer Care team. We’re always happy to help (info@Truth78.org; 877-400-1414).

May the Lord bless you as you prepare for the next season of ministry, sharing God’s glorious Word and Gospel with the next generation “so that they should set their hope in God” (Psalm 78:7).

 

 

Who Is the Most Important Person?

We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done (Psalm 78:4).

This passage instructs us to lay before our children the glorious deeds of the Lord—how strong and powerful He is, and the wonders that He has done. This concept reaches its apex at the Cross; a place where the gloriousness and the powerful reality of God converged, as God willingly sacrificed his son—to the wonderment of the world—and the wonderment of all of the universe. The challenge we face is that this message is either set in the context of a culture that is inclined to reject it, or that the message of God’s glorious deeds is never even heard.

As great as the vision is of telling children the glorious deeds of the Lord, there is a counterbalance in this verse of what must not be done: We must not hide these things from our children. Hide means to conceal. It means to cover. It also means to deny. You can hide something by simply denying its truthfulness. Every child, every adult for that matter, but particularly every child, needs to have the truth of the Scriptures brought to bear on his or her life because there is a false and natural narrative that children embrace from the very beginning of their lives. If nothing is done to alter that, the false narrative natural to children will serve to counteract and to deny the true gospel that can save them.

The truth is a necessity because of the denial that naturally exists within the heart of every child. Following are four of the false beliefs children are born with:

It’s All About Me

Every child is born into the world believing they are the center of the universe. No one had to teach a child how to say the word mine.

I remember one time when I was getting on a bus in Ukraine. I saw a child getting off the bus and his mother put her hand out to stop him, and he slapped it and said something in Ukrainian. I don’t know Ukranian, but I knew exactly what that child was saying. That child was saying in Ukranian, “I do it!”

I Am the Best

The narrative born in the heart of every child is that “you are the best; you are better than others.”

My wife teaches our kindergarten Sunday school class and she comes back on Sundays with the most unbelievable stories, and the most beautiful illustrations of the depravity of man. Part of her lesson involves teaching the Ten Commandments. Her main aim is to help children understand that they’re sinners. This is sometimes a very challenging task. In one lesson she asked some children if they were sinners. One boy raised his hand and said, “No, I’m not. But my sister sure is!”

No one had to teach him to say that. His mom didn’t get in the car and say, “When you’re asked today, tell them your sister’s a sinner, but you’re not.” That is baked into the fabric of our humanity—tragically so.

I Deserve to Be Happy

I remember my children riding in the back of our van telling me, “You don’t make me very happy, Dad.” That created a great teaching moment for me to remind them that my ultimate aim in life is not their happiness.

Nothing Should Stand in My Way

This is prevailing in our culture: whatever you believe that you are, you must be. And don’t let anybody tell you that you’re not who you believe you are on the inside. This false narrative is doing incredible damage as little children are trying to determine their identity and trying to find it inside themselves. How tragic is it, that we would ask a child to define for themselves who they really are?

We’re all born wanting what we want. That’s the problem. Our “want” is broken; so broken we’re willing to do just about anything to get what we want.

One Sunday I asked my wife, “How was Sunday School today?” She said, “It was a little awkward.” I said, “Why?” “We have a contest going to help the kids memorize the Ten Commandments,” she said. “When they do, I give them an award.” I said, “OK, what happened?” She said, “Well, we had a little girl lie about memorizing the Ten Commandments.” That’s challenging.

This brokenness is bound into the heart of our humanity. Whenever I begin to talk about this, I hear a particular song in the back of my head—it’s crazy. Part of the reason I hear this is because when I was growing up, I used to watch Captain Kangaroo. And there was a public service announcement that was often broadcast in the mornings and there was this song. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZgdFMIk38Ms) I want you to hear the narrative of this song.

The most important person in the whole wide world is you and you hardly even know you.
The most important person in the whole wide world is you come on, we’ll show you.
Let’s find out more about the things you feel and do cause you’re the most important person in the world to you.

They put that in a song and sent it to millions of children in the ‘70s. That’s why I’m so messed up! This is the sort of narrative the gospel comes into.

Why do we need to tell children the glorious deeds of the Lord, and of His might, and of His wonders? Because hiding these truths from them is not just the difference between information and lack of information, or truth and ignorance. It’s the difference between a path that produces life and a path that produces death.

The gospel narrative says you’re not the center of the world, God is the center. It says not that you’re the best, but that God is the one Who is glorious and He is what is truly best. It says true happiness is not found in yourself, but rather, eternal happiness—and happiness even now—is found in your relationship with God. The gospel tells the truth: That God is a gracious, loving creator who loves you, redeems you, and rescues you—from what? From yourself.

We must not hide these truths from our children. We must help them to know that they are not “the most important people in the whole wide world.” But instead, the most important person in the whole wide world is God. Truth78 exists to say, “Come, let me show you. The most important person in the whole universe is God. So gather round. Let me show you.”


This article was adapted from the message Mark Vroegop gave at the Truth78 launch event in April, 2018. You can watch the full event here.

Lullaby Theology: Singing the Whole Counsel of God

At two years old, David is finding his singing voice. From the backseat he warbles about “The Wheels of the Bus,” and in the bathtub he chirps out “The Itsy, Bitsy Spider.” But yesterday I found him on our bed, thumbing through Daddy’s Bible, singing “Jesus Loves Me.” We got out the ESV Bible my parents gave David when he was born and sat on the bed, looking at the pictures and singing the songs he had learned about God. One of those songs was Praise Him, Praise Him, All Ye Little Children:

Praise Him, praise Him, all ye little children,
God is love, God is love;
Praise Him, praise Him, all ye little children,
God is love, God is love.

I’ve sung this many times around a circle of unruly toddlers and over crying babies in the nursery. When David was born, I started singing it to him at home as he sat in his chair and watched me cook, wash dishes, and fold laundry. Singing truth is a great way to redeem the “mundane” time, putting into practice the commands of Deuteronomy 6:4-7 with children while getting ordinary things done. Rhythm and simple melody make truths easier to learn and brings cheerfulness to otherwise boring chores (really boring chores if you’re only three months old and can only sit and watch).

However, as I worked and sang through my small repertoire of baby praise songs, I began to notice what a small picture of God I was painting for David. There is no doubt that God is love—and that it is important for the smallest and most vulnerable people to know that—but God has many other attributes as well. Having spent six years teaching The ABCs of God  to first grade students at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, I could think of at least 35 other words about God…Almighty, Creator, Faithful, Holy, Jealous, Righteous, Merciful, Wrathful, Patient, Sovereign, Wise, Incomprehensible (my students’ favorite word), to name only a few. These are also truths David needs to know.

I started to list all of the one-syllable, simple adjectives describing God that I could substitute for “love” in the song: good, wise, just, kind, strong, big, near, great, king, etc. I began to add more verses to Praise Him, Praise Him All Ye Little Children. Even though the song grew much longer, the view of God became much bigger and grander. And that is just what a little child needs. A God who is:

  • Good—who always is good, does good, and gives good things like fields full of dandelions, little sisters, puppy kisses, and even medicine and flu vaccines.
  • Wise—to send rain to water the grass at the park, to make rules about obeying mommy and daddy, to make it dark for nighttime.
  • Strong—who never grows tired or crabby, who cannot be stopped from doing His purposes, who can carry His children through all of life, even when earthly daddies can’t.
  • Big—bigger than anything he is afraid of (the dark, owls, mommy leaving, etc.) and bigger than himself, a God who is the boss of everyone, including toddlers.
  • Near—who is everywhere all the time, even in the middle of the night when parents are sleeping.
  • Just—who is the standard of right and wrong, who judges and disciplines rightly.
  • Great—a hero who never fails, never grows boring, and really deserves to be worshiped and followed.

We love to sing about the love of God to children because we so want them to experience His love, to know His tender care, and to see His smile of favor. God is love, and that’s a good place to start. But we must not stop there because the Bible doesn’t stop there. What toddlers don’t need is another warm and fuzzy “god bear” to cuddle for comfort. They need God. When fears, confusion, and rebellion come as threatening storms into his world, David needs the Lion-Lamb God of the Bible, who not only quiets His children with His love, but who vanquishes enemies with a mighty hand. If we truly want our children to truly praise God for His love, we must place His love within the whole counsel of God, including big words that toddlers may not fully understand for a while.

It will be a long time before David can read all the words the Bible uses to describe God, but until then, he can learn to sing them and say them. The words he learns now will prepare his mind and his heart for deeper teaching when he is older. But even now, his little ears are listening, and his young mind can understand more than we imagine. So we sing, and pray that he will come to love and trust the God that all those important words are about.


This article was written by Sarah House who is a Sunday School teacher and mother of four small children. It was first published in 2014.

What Does Godly Ambition Look Like?

What is greatness in God’s sight? Too often I wish for my children, (and even for myself), greatness that is praised in the world’s eyes: high grades, academic accolades, advanced degrees, leadership positions, world-shaping achievements, visible fame, etc. This has been a temptation in every age.

George Whitfield had far-ranging, ministry-oriented, ambitions for his son at his birth. But when the baby died at only four months old, Whitfield was jarred into reconsidering his hopes. As David Campbell explains in his article “Ambitious for Your Children?”, Whitfield’s application of a particular promise made by God to Zechariah about his son, John, was misapplied.

Campbell’s helpful lesson from history is a powerful corrective for parents in every age, who are tempted to wish for their children a greatness defined by the world’s standards. John’s greatness was anything but worldly. He says,

In John’s case, the promised greatness may be traced in his personal godliness, his faithfulness to his God-given task, his courage in doing the hard thing (reproving Herod for his sin), and his humility before Christ. Not the kind of things, it has to be said, that enter into the world’s estimation of greatness. But very precious in the eyes of God.

How should we frame this biblical prayer that our children be “great in the sight of the Lord”? Campbell exhorts believing parents saying,

Our children, it is true to say, may have no great part to play in the unfolding history of the kingdom of God. No one may write a biography of them after they are gone. They may never serve on the mission-field, never hold office in the church, they may have no outstanding gifts. But if they have a heart for God, serve him faithfully, have the courage to do the right, and are clothed in godly humility, they will be great in the Lord’s sight. And nothing counts for more than that!

Let this, then, be our chief ambition for our children. As we pray for them, let these be the things we ask the Lord for above everything else. Unbelievers may not think very much of our children for having them. God, for his part, will think the world of them.

Enjoy the surprising account of Whitfield and the greater context of these concluding remarks by reading the entire article here.


Feeling discouraged in your failure to change the world? Here’s encouragement for faithfulness in the ordinary: “To Be a Diaper Changer

Why Children Need a High View of God

I still remember reading A. W. Tozer’s book, The Knowledge of the Holy, back when I was in my freshman year of college. In the preface of that book, Tozer writes, “The view of God entertained among evangelicals these days is so low, so beneath the dignity of God as to constitute idolatry.”

How important it is to know God rightly.

What is needed for children to see how true and how glorious, how joy producing is the Christian faith? What will produce in the next generation faithfulness, strength of character, willingness to serve sacrificially—a willingness to go anywhere the Lord might want them to go to be witnesses for Him? What will it take to bring this about in them?

There are many answers to that question. But there is one that is of the upmost importance if children are to grow and have the strength of faith and a joy in the Lord. Consider six reasons why we must pass on to the next generation a high view of God.

First, it’s true.

Do we not want our children to grow and to know God as He is? And not present God in barely bigger than human terms? We want them to see his majesty, His glory, His independence. We do not want them growing up thinking, Boy, it’s a good thing that God has me on His side because I know He needs me to get the work done that needs to be done.

We want them to realize from their very earliest years how much they need God, but how He doesn’t need them at all. My goodness, the privilege that it is to be related to this God who loves them so deeply. So, indeed, to know God rightly, is to know Him both as other than us and near to us. Both as transcendent in the glory of His holiness, His Majesty, His power, His dominion, His sovereignty. And, amazingly, to recognize His love and goodness and kindness and mercy, His forgiveness, His tenderness. It’s true that God is great and it’s true that God is majestic and merciful.

Second, a high view of God enhances our understanding of his love and His mercy and His grace.

Here’s what happens if you approach the love of God without understanding the glory and the greatness of God. When the words come to your ears, “God loves you,” what do you think? Well of course He does! Aren’t I worth it? I mean, who wouldn’t love a wonderful person like I am?

We live in a culture that is so filled with a sense of entitlement that we bring it into the Christian faith. We start thinking that we deserve this love of God that we hear about. I think one of the biggest problems we have in our churches, broadly speaking, is we have this rush to the divine immanence. We rush to talk about the love of God, the grace of God, the mercy of God, the forgiveness of God—all of which are true—all of which are glorious. But because people typically do not have a high view of God, they hear those things and they think in terms of entitlement: Well of course.

But if you realize God is holy, that He is perfectly pure in all of his ways, then you hear the love of God very  differently. You hear it the way Isaiah must have understood it in Isaiah 6, after he saw the glory of God’s holiness, His majesty, His power, His might, and His purity. Then realized his own sin before God as the basis by which God then came and brought to him forgiveness and grace and mercy.

What a difference that makes! This is not entitled mercy; entitled grace. (That’s an oxymoron, by the way. Grace is unmerited favor.)  But you stand in awe and wonder that that great God would deem it good and right to love the likes of me.

Third, it promotes deep and authentic humility.

We do not want our kids growing up thinking, How great I am. We want our kids growing up thinking, How great God is! We all need so much to understand how little we are, how weak we are, how foolish we are. But incredibly, God in His mercy and grace, through His son Jesus, has brought us to the One who is great, who is wise, who is knowledgeable, who is able to provide everything we need out of the infinite fullness of His bounty. A true humility is grounded in a high view of God.

Fourth, it strengthens living and vibrant faith.

One of the most important elements of faith is a confidence that God is able. Nothing could thwart His power. Nothing could hinder Him from accomplishing whatever He chooses to do. This big view of God that sees His strength and His might—His sovereign majesty—is one of the resources that is absolutely necessary to believe in God. If you don’t think that He can do it, you’re going to look elsewhere. You’re going to go horizontal quickly and look for help from this or that other person, this or that other scheme. What will lead us to go vertical is the conviction that God is the one who is able to bring about anything that He chooses to do.

In addition to being certain that God can powerfully bring about what He chooses, faith requires knowing that He always chooses the best. He knows perfectly what needs to be done, and no one can match His wisdom.

The third ingredient necessary for faith in God is a confidence that He is for us; that He really does love and care for His people. Confidence in the power of God, and the wisdom of God, and the love of God is necessary for faith. A high view of God is absolutely critical then for a living and vibrant faith.

Fifth, a high view of God provides the resources necessary for times of suffering and affliction.

I don’t know what people do during times of suffering, whether for themselves or close friends or family members, if they don’t have a confidence that God’s ways are best, and that He is working through the suffering to bring about the good that He has designed to come to pass. That’s everything. I’ve heard so many people say, “When you’re talking to someone going through suffering, don’t bring up Romans 8:28.” And my response is, “Why in the world not?”

Why hide from them one of the most glorious teachings in the Bible that has everything to do with strengthening the faith of suffering Christians? God works everything together for good. Wow. He can do that? Oh yes He can!

A high view of God enables us to believe that God is in our suffering for good. We may not see all He is doing in this life, but we know His character. We know that He will never fail in accomplishing any of the good ends that He has designed. So indeed, we believe God during those times because we know who He is. Like the song says, “When we can’t trace His hand, we trust His heart.”

Sixth and finally, it elicits genuine and sustained worship of the God to whom alone belongs all glory.

To realize why it is that God alone should be worshiped requires a high view of who God is. Otherwise, our tendency is to think that something else out there ought to be receiving our worship, or perhaps, I ought to be receiving it.

Whatever there is that is worthy of worship, is what we ought to worship. Whatever is truly honorable, ought to be honored. Whatever is praiseworthy ought to be praised. The only way we can answer the question, “Who is it that deserves praise, that deserves honor, that deserves worship?” rightly is by knowing who God actually is. He alone is the One worthy of that honor, and glory, and worship. And when we know who God rightly is, and we worship Him, we are changed.

God has so designed us that we instinctively, naturally seek to become like whatever we esteem most highly. Did you know that about yourself?  Look at what you love; you adore; you treasure. Guess what you’re looking at? You’re looking at a reflection of what you are becoming. God wants us to see Him as eminently worthy of our deepest affections, our genuine love, our highest worship. In so doing, what happens to us? We long to take on the character of the One we adore.

May God help us to be tools in His hands in the life of the next generation, to see them develop a high view of God; to know Him rightly and to enter into the joy and the truth of the Christian faith, that they might in turn pass that on to the generation that follows.


This post was adapted from the message Bruce Ware gave at the Truth78 launch event in April, 2018. You can watch the full event here.

 

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