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Encouraging Our Children with Great Hymns

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There are days when I feel completely empty of words to build up and encourage both myself and others…including words to encourage my own grandchildren! Tragic events swirl around us, and it would be so easy to simply give in to despair. But then biblical truth comes crashing in to my mind and heart—in a good and powerful way. That Truth changes everything. Sometimes it is a particular memorized verse or series of verses that comes to mind. Hope arises and replaces despair! Give your children the great gift of memorizing Scripture!

Another way we can help encourage our children is to teach them great hymns. I know there are many seemingly “kid-friendly” song options out there—songs that are fun, exciting, and simple, but these type of songs only take our children so far. Yes, there is a place for them. I am all for teaching children songs that contain simple words and tunes that convey great truths. But we also need to begin teaching our children for life 10, 20, or even 70 years down the road. Here is a post from two years ago that came to mind today:

It is amazing to me how many times—especially in life’s most difficult situations—the words of great hymns come to mind to guide my thoughts and emotions.

…though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet…Jesus who died shall be satisfied, And earth and heaven be one. (This is My Father’s World)

…The prince of darkness grim, We tremble not for him—His rage we can endure, For lo his doom is sure: One little word shall fell him. (A Mighty Fortress)

…Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love: Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above. (Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing)

…Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace; Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face. (God Moves in a Mysterious Way)

Great hymns are those that communicate the excellencies of the triune God and sound doctrine, encourage a right heart response, and do so in an appealing and enduring musical form. From childhood, these hymns were graven in my mind and, after Christ brought me to saving faith, these hymns became graven in my heart. Will this be true for our children, too?

Here are a few helpful suggestions for how to incorporate hymns into your family devotional time or a Sunday school setting:

  • Tell the children about the composer and circumstances surrounding the writing of the hymn. (Hymns for a Kid’s Heart is a wonderful resource for this.)
  • Explain difficult words or concepts—a little bit each week.
  • Try introducing one new hymn every month, or 4-6 learned over the course of a Sunday school year.
  • Develop simple hand/body motions to help younger children focus.

(From a seminar titled “Leading Children in God-Centered Worship” by Pam Grano)

Also, here is a post with two recommendations for hymn books for your family.

(Image courtesy of Ventrilock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Something’s Missing

Now Available: The ABCs of God

We try to include an array of helpful resources in our curricula, and the newly revised ABCs of God curriculum is no exception. However, something very important is missing—on purpose. What is it? Let me convey a true story that will emphasize what it is and why it’s missing.

19A-RefugeAbout 20 years ago, I was busy writing the first version of The ABCs of God for use in our church. At the time, I was teaching the first grade Sunday school class. The lesson for an upcoming Sunday was “Refuge—God is a place of safety for His people.” I had the lesson prepared with Bible texts studied and all the visuals prepped and ready to go. But something very important was missing…an unexpected “gift” as it were. That “gift” dramatically changed the way in which I presented the lesson.

What was the gift I’m referring to? Oddly enough, it came in the early morning hours soon after my husband Bruce had left for work, riding his bike as usual. I got the phone call from our pastor. Bruce was okay, but he had been shot while biking through the neighborhood. A man had held up a gun, demanded his money, and then simply pulled the trigger. But, interestingly enough, as he pulled that trigger his hand fell and Bruce was shot in the foot instead of the chest.

After the initial shock of hearing that my husband had been shot—in the foot no less—you know what immediately came to mind? God is our refuge and strength. God is a place of safety and protection for His people. No matter what happens—even if that bullet had taken his life—my husband would have been safe in the arms of Jesus. God truly is a refuge! I have seen and experienced Him as a strong tower!

The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.—Proverbs 18:10

Tower of Refuge

That experience was a gift—it completely changed the manner in which I presented the lesson to those first graders, because my mind and heart had been deeply impacted and transformed by the biblical truths written into the lesson. The list of Scripture texts were no mere words on a page. God’s Word was shown to be powerful, effective, reliable, and true in a scary situation.

That Sunday, at the end of the lesson, I briefly shared what had happened to my husband—without being overly dramatic or scary. I ended the story with a note of confidence: For everyone who is trusting in Jesus, God WILL BE your refuge in every circumstance—even death, because going to be with Jesus forever is the greatest refuge of all! All eyes and ears were completely focused as I told this story. And I think the children got the point. Because, though not everyone (thankfully) will experience being shot, we all face scary things. Children may fear bullies, math tests, getting sick, grandpa dying, thunderstorms, robbers, etc. Conveying a real-life experience can help them grasp what it truly means that God is a refuge.

So what’s missing from the curriculum? You, teaching from a mind and heart that has been transformed by His Word and, when appropriate, briefly sharing experiences God has brought into your life that serve to demonstrate His greatness and worth.

 

Wowing Children with 35 Truths about God

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Our children and students long to be “wowed.” And the world presents them with a myriad of things to be wowed by—spectacular movies, sports, food, fashions, music, toys, and electronic gadgets…and on and on. My grandson happens to be wowed by pulleys—yes, those simple machines that can do all sorts of heavy lifting. Go figure.

But ultimately, what do our children and students need to be wowed by? What is truly worthy of their highest affection and praise? What will fully satisfy their “wow” hunger? There is only one answer to that: seeing and loving the incomparable greatness and grandeur of God!

How will this happen? Ultimately, by the sovereign grace of God bringing new life in our children’s lives so that they may know and treasure Him for who He is and what He is like. But we, too, have a grave responsibility and joyful privilege in this process, and that is to communicate to our children the manifold excellencies of God as revealed in His Word. Here are 35 scriptural truths about God (there are many more!) that we can begin to wow our children with:

God is…

  1. Almighty—He is all-powerful.
  2. Attentive—He constantly sees, hears, and acts in the world.
  3. Bountiful—God is more than enough to satisfy all our desires.
  4. the Creator of everything.
  5. the Deliverer—He saves His sinful people from the punishment they deserve.
  6. Eternal—He has no beginning or end.
  7. Exalted—God ranks far above everything else. He is the Most High.
  8. Faithful—God always does what He says He will do.
  9. Glorious—He shows His greatness and worth.
  10. Good—Everything God is and does is worthy of approval.
  11. Happy—He delights in being God.
  12. Holy—God is like nothing else. He is perfect and is separate from sin.
  13. Incomprehensible—He is more than we can fully understand.
  14. Jealous—God will not share His glory, or the honor and praise He deserves.
  15. King—He rules over everyone.
  16. Love—God gives of Himself for the joy of others.
  17. Merciful—God is kind to undeserving sinners.
  18. Never-Tiring—He never gets tired and never sleeps.
  19. Omnipresent—God is everywhere all the time.
  20. Omniscient—God knows everything.
  21. Patient—He is slow to anger and slow to punish.
  22. the Provider—God meets the needs of His creation.
  23. a Refuge—God is a place of safety for His people.
  24. Righteous—Everything God thinks, says, and does is right.
  25. Self-Sufficient—He doesn’t need anything.
  26. Sovereign—God has the right, wisdom, and power to do all that He pleases.
  27. Trinity—God is three Persons in one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  28. Unchanging—He never changes.
  29. Understanding—God remembers that we are weak.
  30. Victorious—God always wins, even over Satan, sin, and death.
  31. Wise—He causes everything to work out perfectly.
  32. Worthy—God is most valuable and deserves our greatest love, obedience, and worship.
  33. Wrathful—He is very angry at sin, and is right to punish sinners.
  34. Yahweh—This is God’s personal name and belongs to no one else.
  35. Zealous—God always acts with His whole heart.

Imagine a six- or seven-year -old being taught these truths about God! How can a new toy compare? Imagine the love children have for mom and dad—now they can see that God is infinitely more loving, kind, dependable, and deserving of their devotion and affection!

Does this seem like too much to communicate to these young children? Too lofty and deep? We have a newly revised resource aimed specifically at sharing and explaining these truths to six- and seven-year-olds. What is it? Check back tomorrow for a special announcement!

(Image courtesy of tuelekza at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

No Sin, No Gospel

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Last year I wrote a post titled, “Grasping Sin in Order to Grasp the Gospel,” which included this quote from D. A. Carson:

There can be no agreement as to what salvation is unless there is agreement as to that from which salvation rescues us. The problem and the solution hang together: the one explicates the other. It is impossible to gain a deep grasp of what the cross achieves without plunging into a deep grasp of what sin is; conversely, to augment one’s understanding of the cross is to augment one’s understanding of sin.

To put the matter another way, sin establishes the plotline of the Bible…

In short, if we do not comprehend the massive role that sin plays in the Bible and therefore in biblically faithful Christianity, we shall misread the Bible. Positively, a sober and realistic grasp of sin is one of the things necessary to read the Bible in a percipient fashion; it is one of the required criteria for a responsible hermeneutic. (from Fallen: A Theology of Sin, copyright © 2013, as republished on www.monergism.com)

Question: Are we helping our children and students understand the massive role of sin in the plotline of the Bible? Interestingly enough, one of the questions we sometimes get at CDG relates to the prevalence of “sin talk” in our curriculum—especially in the younger grades. Is all this depressing talk of sin really necessary for these young children? Why not go right to the solution instead? Because, as Dr. Carson states, “It is impossible to gain a deep grasp of what the cross achieves without plunging into a deep grasp of what sin is.” That is why we believe children—even young children—need a biblically serious and sober view of sin. Hence this CDG distinction:

We believe that in order to fully embrace the Gospel, children must first come to an appropriate understanding of the true nature of sin and the offense 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 and manner. Children are challenged to think deep and hard about their standing before God and Jesus’ call to repent and believe.

 

24 Things Your Children Should Know About God’s Providence

Lately, I find myself reflecting more and more on these words from the hymn, This Is My Father’s World:

This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.

 These few simple words carry an inexhaustible and unshakeable source of hope. They remind us of an often forgotten rock-solid reality—God is the ruler yet!

 As our children and grandchildren increasingly face a hostile world, one that seems “oft so strong,” what will come to mind? What thoughts will lead and guide them? Will they reflect upon the glorious truth that God is, indeed, the ruler yet?  And furthermore, will they know and understand the nature and extent of that rule so that they will have an unswerving confidence in Him no matter what the circumstances in their lives and world?

That is why it is so crucial for our children to learn of God’s providence—His active rule over all things. There are at least 24 things we should teach them about God’s providence:

  1. God is actively involved in the universe and sustains it.
  2. God has the right, wisdom, and power to govern the world.
  3. God has a plan for all creation.
  4. Everything God does has a purpose.
  5. All God’s purposes are right.
  6. God will accomplish His purposes.
  7. God is never surprised.
  8. God’s providential works are often hidden from man.
  9. God’s purposes are far-reaching.
  10. God acts for His glory—to show His greatness and worth.
  11. God controls nature; all of nature is subject to His will.
  12. God is sovereign over human life.
  13. God controls rulers and nations—they are subject to His will.
  14. God’s Word—the Bible—accomplishes His purposes.
  15. God is sovereign over the heart of man.
  16. God planned Jesus’ death to solve man’s sin problem.
  17. God is at work in the world saving lost sinners.
  18. God works through the evangelistic works of His people as they proclaim the Gospel.
  19. God is sovereign over Satan and evil.
  20. God’s providence extends over pain and suffering.
  21. God rules over disasters and calamities.
  22. God rules over man’s way and all circumstances.
  23. God’s plans fit together perfectly, and His timing is perfect.
  24. God causes all things to work together for good for His children.

Each one of these concepts is presented and explored in the curriculum titled, My Purpose Will Stand: A Study for Children on the Providence of God (grade range: 5th-6th, 40 lessons). Click here for the lesson scope and sequence for the curriculum. Or, especially for families, consider the book, God’s Providence, which is a devotional tool adapted from the curriculum.

5 Reasons We Need to Encourage Active Learning

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Imagine a group of third graders in their Sunday school classroom. All are happily engaged—busy hands, feet, and voices—participating in a Bible lesson. This is active learning on display, right?…Maybe, but maybe not. It depends on your definition of “active learning.” Here is a definition from Sally Michael that I think gets to the heart of what we at CDG mean by active learning:

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.

Yes, this may at times involve active hands, feet, and voices, but the emphasis is on the mind. Why do our children need this type of active learning? I believe there are at least five reasons.

 1. The text of the Bible requires it. (2 Timothy 2:15)

The Bible communicates its message through…

  • The simple and complex
  • The concrete and the abstract
  • The straight-forward and the paradox
  • Historical narrative and symbolic poetry, metaphors, allegories, etc.

John Piper: “Education is cultivating the life of the mind so that it knows how to grow in true understanding. That impulse was unleashed by God’s inspiring a Book with complex demanding paragraphs in it.” (from “Why God Inspired Hard Texts,” ©Desiring God Foundation, desiringGod.org)

 2. Christian discipleship requires it. (2 Timothy 2:7; 3:14-15)

Albert Mohler: “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,” albertmohler.com)

3. Active learning is a key motivator and guide for the proper application of biblical truth—true faith and heart transformation.

Learning most powerfully transfers and transforms when the material taught has meaning to the student’s life and experience. (from “Creative Bible Teaching,” copyright©1998, page 115)

Here’s a very simple example: Suppose a lesson includes reading the following:

 Exodus 20:15—“You shall not steal.”

This is simple and straight-forward. It is concrete. A young child can hear this and recite it back to you. But the mind will become more actively engaged and more interested in the concept when it is related to a real-life scenario such as:

What if someone was trying to sneak candy from a store without paying for it?

Now young ears perk up—candy! A child begins to think, “I know about candy. I like candy. There is a lot of yummy candy at the store. But Mom has to pay for the candy before I can have it. Sneaking candy without paying is wrong. But why?”

The mind has now become active. The child is pondering and analyzing. The child is motivated to hear more. Now the teacher has a means of connecting God’s truth to a child’s life. “You shall not steal” takes on a whole new meaning, as it can be applied to numerous situations and circumstances in life. When a child discovers this for himself, the “light goes on” in his head.

The child is excited by what he has learned and will be more motivated to apply it to his own life.

4. Active learning gives our children a strong defense of the Christian faith.
(1 Peter 3:15)

Nancy Pearsey: “As Christian parents, pastors, teachers, and youth group leaders, we constantly see young people pulled down by the undertow of powerful cultural trends. If all we give them is a “heart” religion, it will not be strong enough to counter the lure of attractive but dangerous ideas. Young believers also need a “brain” religion—training in worldview and apologetics—to equip them to analyze and critique the competing worldviews they will encounter when they leave home.
(from “Total Truth,” www.summit.org)

 5. You cannot love, trust, or worship that which you do not know.
(Mark 12:30; Romans 12:2)

John Piper: “There is an odd notion that, if we use our minds to grow in our knowledge of God, mystery will diminish and with it a sense of wonder and reverence. I call this notion odd for two reasons. One is that, no matter how many millions of ages I use my mind to know more and more of God’s majesty, his glories will never be in danger of being exhausted. What is not yet known of God by finite creatures will always be limitless. You honor this truth more by shameless growth in the knowledge of God.

“And the second reason I find the notion odd that thinking about God and knowing more and more of God jeopardizes our worship of God, is that without knowing him we can’t worship in a way that honors him. God is not honored when people get excited about how little they know of him.” (from “The Life of the Mind and the Love of God,” www.desiringGod.org)

(Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

A Banner to Fly Over Your Parenting and Children’s Ministry

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What if we were to take this statement and make it a type of banner to fly over our parenting and children’s and youth ministries in the coming years?

Our aim is not to take a child’s low views of self and replace them with high views of self. Rather our aim is to take a child’s low views of God and replace them with high views of God. Our aim is not to take a child with little sense of worth and fill him with a great sense of worth. Rather our aim is to take a child who by nature makes himself the center of the universe and show him that he was made to put God at the center of the universe and get joy not from seeing his own tiny worth, but from knowing Christ who is of infinite worth.

(“Predestined for Adoption to the Praise of His Glory,” by John Piper, ©Desiring God Foundation, desiringGod.org)

Think of how countercultural and even counterintuitive this is…and yet it is so radically biblical and life-giving for our children! In many ways, our resources have been developed underneath this sweeping banner. For example, our first two distinctions are:

  • 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.

Every resource we develop seeks to do these things—from nursery and beyond. Two resources in particular are designed to give children a “high view” of God by carefully focusing on His divine attributes and character.

The ABCs of God: A Study for Children on the Greatness and Worth of God (1st – 3rd Grade, 40 lessons)
The ABCs of God was written to present children with the beauty and awesome grandeur of the incomparable greatness and worth of God. Toward this end, this curriculum uses the framework of the alphabet to teach children key attributes of God and other words that define His character. These are deep doctrinal truths that answer the most important questions for each of us, namely, “Who is God? What is God like? How should I respond to God?”

(Note: The revised version of The ABCs of God will be available Summer 2016. Watch the blog for further updates.)

How Majestic Is Your Name: A Study for Children on the Names and Character of God (5th – 6th Grade, 40 lessons)
The names of God in the Bible are a reflection of His character, which is so glorious that He cannot be described by a single name. His character is communicated in hundreds of names progressively revealed in the Bible. But the focus of How Majestic Is Your Name is not the many names, titles and references to God. This are merely the structure to show the greatness of our God. Each lesson presents glorious truths about God and encourages students to see and rejoice in His goodness and greatness.

Is your church already using one or both of these curricula? Have you and your children been encouraged as you have seen a great and marvelous view of God and the surpassing worth of Christ? We would be delighted if you would share an encouraging testimony with us and others.

(Image courtesy of photoexplorer at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

What’s Your Plan for Teaching the Whole Counsel of God?

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It is a well-known fact in my family that I am a stereotypical procrastinator. I stall as long as possible before getting things done—even really important things! Long-term strategic planning is not my natural mode of operation, as I would rather wait and then be motivated by the “tyranny of the urgent.” But when it comes to the spiritual education and formation of our children and youth, this type of approach is not at all helpful or biblical. It puts off what should be very carefully planned and implemented.

For example, think ahead for a moment and ask yourself this long-term question: By the time my children and/or students reach adulthood, will they be able to answer these key questions?

  • What’s in the Bible?
  •  Who is the Bible about?
  •  What’s the main message of the Bible?
  •  What are the essential doctrines (truths) of the Christian faith?
  •  How are we to live?
  •  Why do we need to be saved?
  •  What must we do to be saved?
  •  How should we read and understand the Bible?

These types of questions cannot be readily or adequately addressed by a hit-and-miss approach. Rather, they require implementing a carefully constructed strategic plan—a plan that encompasses teaching the whole counsel of God. What does that look like? How and where do you begin?

This was the topic addressed in my seminar, “Making a Strategic Plan for Teaching the Whole Counsel of God,” at our National Conference this year. Here are two helpful resources from that seminar to assist you in making your own strategic plan: The seminar handout and the accompanying seminar PowerPoint presentation, which includes two charts showing the available from CDG curricula, from nursery to high school, and how each fits into the long-term, strategic plan.

 

24 Things Your Child Should Know About the Bible…in a Book

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Last week, I highlighted the curriculum I Stand in Awe: A Study for Children on the Bible, which teaches children about the nature and main message of the Bible. But what about a resource that might be a better fit in a home setting, such as a family devotional tool? Consider the book, God’s Word, which is adapted from the I Stand in Awe curriculum. God’s Word is a captivating, child-friendly resource for parents to use to approach the Bible with their children, and also to involve their children in reaching for the Bible themselves.

Each of the 26 chapters is only four pages long and displays a full-color illustration. It is written specifically to be read by or to children, with an engaging style that will help them understand the concepts presented. Furthermore, each chapter ends with personal application questions and a tangible activity to put the truths learned into practice.

As a parent and grandparent, I find this resource to be a great way to introduce children to the basics of the Bible. After reading through it with your child, not only will they be better equipped to answer the question, “What is the Bible?” but they will also be challenged, encouraged, and hopefully drawn to trust and treasure the Author of the Bible.

 

24 Things Your Child Should Know about the Bible

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Suppose you were to ask your 6- or 7-year-old children or students, “What is the Bible?” How do you think they would answer? Sally Michael believes there are at least 24 things children of this age should know about the Bible:

  • The Bible is a message from God.
  • The Bible is the most special Book.
  • The Bible is written by God.
  • The Bible is true.
  • God watches over the Bible and works to fulfill His Word.
  • The Bible is for everyone.
  • The Bible is full of wonderful verses.
  • God is the main character in the Bible.
  • The Bible is powerful.
  • The Bible is eternal.
  • God will preserve the Bible.
  • The Bible is the ultimate authority.
  • The Bible shows us that our hope is in God.
  • The Bible protects us from sin.
  • The Bible is our guide.
  • The Bible should be obeyed.
  • The Bible is a priceless treasure.

What is the message of the Bible?

  • There is only one true God.
  • We were created to show God’s greatness and worth (God’s glory).
  • All people have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
  • The wages of sin is death.
  • We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus.
  • The gift of God is eternal life.
  • God gave us the Bible so that we might believe in Jesus.

Yes, these list is not comprehensive, but it’s a good place to start and provides some concrete, obtainable goals for children. And, to help you do just that, Sally has written a curriculum that carefully explains each of these points:

I Stand in Awe – A Study for Children on the Bible

 26 Lessons

Target Grade: 1st Grade

Grade Range: Kindergarten-2nd Grade

God, who is the most valuable Being in all the universe, reveals Himself with clarity and authority through His Word. This means that the Bible is precious and should be valued more than any other book. This study seeks to acquaint young children with the characteristics of the Bible and its message of redemption. The goal is for children to develop a deep affection for the Bible and learn to treasure its Author.

Learn more about this curriculum here. And a special note to parents: This curriculum is very adaptable for using in the home. Look here for ideas in adapting the curriculum for the home.

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