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A Gospel Legacy for My Grandson

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“Read this one, Gramma. My book.” Those words were spoken by our 4-year-old grandson David as he chose a Bible story to be read before putting him to bed. The “My book” he was referring to was God’s Gospel. When I first gave him a copy, I explained that I had written it for him, and then read the dedication to him:

For my grandson,

David Glenn House.

May the words of this book help you to “taste and see” the good news of the Gospel in the hope that you would trust and treasure Jesus with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.

There are many legacies that I want to leave behind for my children and grandchildren. But by far the most important is a legacy of faith, grounded in the Gospel.  A rich, deep, biblical faith that knows and embraces the essential truths of the Gospel, truths regarding:

  • the holiness of God
  • His good and sovereign rule over us
  • the total depravity of man
  • the unmerited mercy of God
  • the incomparable worth and work of Jesus
  • God’s wrath poured out on His Son for our forgiveness
  • the meaning of true repentance and belief
  • the joy of eternity celebrating Jesus

I will be the first to admit that David’s book isn’t a masterpiece of storytelling. My words, illustrations, and explanations are not perfect nor can they adequately reflect the majestic beauty of the Gospel. It is simply this grandma’s attempt to explain the greatest news in the world to a young heart and mind. And though the some of the words and concepts are still beyond his 4-year-old comprehension, my hope and prayer is that God’s Gospel will begin to peak his interest in tasting and seeing that which is perfect and truly able to give him eternal life: God’s Word—the Bible.

“but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name”  (John 20:31).

Choosing Solid Content over Bells & Whistles

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In her interview for CREDO magazine, Sally Michael was asked:

In all your years of ministry, what is the #1 mistake one might make when structuring and developing a children’s Sunday school curriculum in a church for the first time?

Here is her answer:

I think the number one danger is making a curriculum choice based on the “bells and whistles” that make children’s Sunday school fun at the expense of good content. To evaluate material based on interesting graphics, video content, or the number of activities, rather than on evaluating the biblical content of the material and how it is presented is to err on the side of entertainment, rather than focus on real learning. Real learning involves engaging the mind, not providing active or entertaining components. The goal of the material should be to present solid truth and promote spiritual growth.

Another problem that is prevalent is allowing current trends to inform your content, rather than carefully formulating a scope and sequence that emphasizes correct doctrine and the full counsel of God. When that happens, the material becomes “lop-sided” and children receive inaccurate, insufficient, and sometimes even potentially spiritually harmful  teaching. 

(From the article, “Jesus What a Savior”)

Her last observation is another reason for the focus of our 2016 National Conference on persevering in the whole counsel of God. Watch pastor David Michael’s invitation to the conference here.

(Image courtesy of digidreamgrafix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Looking Backward to Minister Forward

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Are you looking for some dynamic new teaching device or technique to transform your Sunday school classroom? Is there a new model of youth ministry everyone is raving about? Is your church thinking about revamping family ministry to appeal to a more media-driven culture?…It does the church good to be thoughtful and forward thinking in our approach to ministry. But sometimes we forget that the most important wisdom regarding these questions and decisions comes by looking backward, and not by what’s trending around us. How so?

In preparation for an upcoming seminar titled “Catechism: Out of Date, or a Tried and True Teaching Tool of Eternal Truths?,” Sally Michael has been reading Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way  by J. I. Packer and Gary A. Parrett. Here is a quote that impressed her:

…we tire ourselves out by constantly striving to reinvent the wheel. Is the current state of discipleship lamentable? It may well be so in many of our churches. But rather than looking for the latest technique, program, marketing scheme, or impressive model, we would do well to stop, take some deep breaths, and carefully reconsider our course. God’s words uttered through the prophet Jeremiah many centuries ago seem apt for us today:

Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look and ask for the ancient paths where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” But they said, “We will not walk in it.” (Jeremiah 6:16)

We agree with the widespread conviction that many evangelical churches are in need of deep change today…Our premise, however, is that the surest way forward is to carefully contemplate the wisdom of our past….In the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments we find an abundance of wisdom for building believers who will live to the glory and honor of our God. There are models and mandates, principles and practices that are as relevant for ministry today as they ever were. Church history also provides us with numerous examples of vibrant, fruitful seasons in the lives of God’s people, when true disciples were truly being made, when whole communities were alive with and for God’s glory. We do not disdain the idea of looking around at contemporary models to find guidance for our own ministries of disciple making. But we do suggest that this not be our only source for wisdom, or even our primary source. Instead, we would counsel, let us look back before looking around. 

(Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way, copyright©2010, pages 24-25)

If this quote leaves you wanting to hear more on this topic, consider joining us for Children Desiring God’s 2016 Children’s Ministry Leader’s Conference, to be held April 14-16, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

 

Don’t Settle for Earthly Success

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Here is a great reminder from Timothy Paul Jones:

Every child is an eternal soul whose days will long outlast the rise and fall of all the kingdoms of the earth. They, their children, and their children’s children will flit ever so briefly across the face of this earth before being swept away into eternity (James 4:14). If these chil­dren become our brothers and sisters in Christ, their days upon this earth are preparatory for glory that will never end (Daniel 12:3; 2 Corinthians 4:17–5:4; 2 Peter 1:10-11). That’s why our primary pur­pose for the children that we educate in our churches and homes must not be anything as small and miserable as earthly success. Our pur­pose should be to leverage children’s lives to advance God’s kingdom so every tribe, every nation, and every people-group gains the oppor­tunity to respond in faith to the rightful King of kings.

(Family Ministry: Your Child is Far More Than Your Child,” www.timothypauljones.com)

(Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Will Our Children Know the Trinity?

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One of my concerns with the current emphasis on “seeing Jesus in all of Scripture” and of focusing Bible teaching almost exclusively on what it says about Jesus is this: Are we inadvertently minimizing the essential doctrine of the Trinity? Please don’t misunderstand: I am NOT saying that we should minimize Jesus! Rather, I am wondering if, in doing so, we have sometimes failed to show our children and students the importance of recognizing and understanding the triune nature of God and why it is essential to the Christian faith. As Dr. Bruce Ware has stated,

This doctrine is, at one time, a very significant distinguishing doctrine of the Christian faith. In another sense, it is a doctrine that is crucial for us in understanding much other doctrine of the Christian faith. Let me give you just one example…Think, for example, of salvation as we think of that as Christian people. Do you realize that it must be a Trinitarian God who saves if there is to be salvation from sin for sinners? Here is why. When you think of how salvation worked; it required that the Father send His Son into the world. Now, why is that? Because the Son had to come who was both divine and human. He had to be divine so that the payment for our sin would be of sufficient value to pay for all of our sin, for all time. A payment was made in full. He had to be human so he would take our place in dying for sin. It required that the Son submit to the will of the Father and receive the wrath of the Father against His own Son so that God would be satisfied, propitiated is the word that is used in Romans 3, as His Son made the payment for our sin. The Son who comes must live His life as a human being and He must live sinless and carry out the will of the Father every single moment of every day of His life. To do that the Holy Spirit comes upon Him so that He is empowered by the Spirit to live the life that He lived, to speak the things that He spoke, and perform the miracles that He did. He did so in the power of the Spirit so that He could go to the cross as obedient and sinless. Here we have the doctrine of salvation, which requires the Father being the One who sends the Son and judges sin in the Son, the Son who comes, who is at one in the same time both God and man, and the Spirit who is God empowering the man Jesus to live the life that He lived. The Trinity is required for salvation to be true.

(From, “The Doctrine of the Trinity” from www.monergism.com)

This is one reason we tweaked our distinctions this past year in order to reflect our desire to keep the Trinity central in our vision, mission, and teaching:

  • 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 curricula aims to magnify the triune God above all—His name, fame, honor, and glory. We believe that 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.

This commitment will not mean emphasizing Jesus less in our teaching. Hopefully, it will mean that our children and students gain a bigger and grander vision of who Jesus is in light of His triune nature as we see Father, Son, and Holy Spirit magnified together as the one, true God.

This week, I took this test posted by Tim Challies—to see how well I understand the doctrine of the Trinity. I commend this test to all parents, teachers, and senior high students.

(Image courtesy of Tuomas_Lehtinen at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Leading Them to God-Esteem

ID-10049918I once saw two different posters depicting runners. One pictured a man confidently running down a sandy beach with the caption,

Failure will never overtake me if my determination to succeed is strong enough.

Now compare this to the second poster I saw. It depicts a runner sitting on a bench in obvious despair, with his head in his hands. The caption reads:

Failure–When your best just isn’t good enough.

On the face of it, these two posters seem at opposite ends of the contemporary focus on self-esteem: high self-esteem vs. low self-esteem. But as strange as it may seem, they are really just two sides of the same coin, because they both have a common focus: SELF. Just as high self-esteem is dressed-up pride, low self-esteem is dressed-up despair.

What’s the point of bringing this up? Because this same kind of self-esteem emphasis may subtlety creep into our children’s ministry. And so often, secular educational philosophy tends to push us in the direction of encouraging higher self-esteem as we teach and interact with children. To that end, important biblical truths become skewed as they put the emphasis in the wrong place…

God loves ME. God made ME special. God hears ME when I pray. God takes care of ME.

So what’s the solution to this skewed emphasis? Would the goal be to make children feel insignificant and worthless? Here is a quote I have posted before, but it bears repeating and pondering again:

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.

 (from John Piper’s sermon, “Predestined for Adoption to the Praise of His Glory,” ©2015 Desiring God Foundation, desiringGod.org)

(Image courtesy of puttsk at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

 

 

Are There Threats to the Gospel in Our Classrooms?

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This may seem like a sensationalized question but I would ask you to read on before simply dismissing the question out-of-hand. This came to mind after reading the 9Marks answer to the question: “What are the most dangerous threats to the gospel today?” What is interesting about the answers is how there is often a subtle version of these dangers lurking in children’s Sunday school classrooms—even in many solid, Gospel-exalting churches.

Here are five dangerous threats to the Gospel noted by 9Marks that I believe are especially relevant to our classrooms. My observations, as they specifically relate to children’s and youth ministries, are in bullet points below each point.

1. The prosperity “gospel.”The belief that the gospel is about God making us rich is a lie. Jesus came to save us from sin and reconcile us to God (Rom. 5:10-11; 1 Pet. 3:18), giving us every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3) and promising us suffering in this life and glory in the next (Acts 14:22, Rom. 8:18). 

  • When teaching children, do we attempt to minimize the existence of suffering in the Christian life for fear that it will turn them away from trusting, loving, and obeying Jesus?
  • Does our teaching include Jesus’ promise that Christians will be hated by the world? Or do we hold out to them a prospect of being popular and loved by the world?
  • Are we giving our students a biblical and practical understanding of suffering?

2. The attack on penal, substitutionary atonement. Many people reject the idea that on the cross God punished Jesus for the sins of his people. But to reject this is to reject the heart of the gospel itself (Rom. 3:21-26).

  • Do we try to present the children with a “bloodless” Jesus?
  • Do we attempt to present forgiveness of sin apart from God’s wrath being poured out in His beloved Son?
  • Are we giving our children a biblical understanding of justification that is consistent with Scripture?

3. The rejection of the wrath of God. People today are extremely uncomfortable with the idea of a holy God who will punish sin. But if we reject the wrath of God we lie to ourselves about the fundamental problem the gospel saves us from (John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; 1 Thess. 1:10).

  • Is God’s wrath ever mentioned in your teaching? If so, is it being explained clearly and accurately? Is God’s wrath being put in the context of His holiness so children understand why God is right and just to punish sinners?
  • Do the children understand that God’s wrath at their own sin is their greatest problem?
  • Is God’s wrath being minimized by presenting the consequence of sin as mainly a “broken relationship” with God?

4. The rejection of sin. Some argue that sin is just an idea that people in power use to make others behave the way they want them to. But the Bible presents sin—and especially God’s wrath against sin—as humanity’s fundamental problem. Reject sin and you’ve rejected our only Savior who “died for our sins” (1 Cor. 15:3).

  • Are we dangerously softening a biblical definition of sin for children so they will not feel too badly about themselves, in the desire to protect their self-esteem?
  • Are we defining the true essence of sin to include rebellion against our sovereign Creator?
  • Are we giving children a biblical picture of their helpless condition before a holy God apart from the saving work of Christ?
  • Do we gloss over depth of the problem of our sin by presenting Jesus as some kind of easy fix-it with no demand for true repentance?

5. A man-centered view of the universe. We like to think that we run things around here. We like to think that no one can tell us what to do or believe—after all, we have rights! But the Bible presents exactly the opposite picture: we live in God’s universe (Rom. 11:36). He made us (Ps. 100:3). He rules over us (Dan. 4:34-35; 1 Tim. 6:15-16). We either worship him or hate him—and face the consequences (Rom. 1:18, 25; 8:5-8)…

  • Does our teaching tend to use words and phrases that give students the wrong impression that God ultimately exists for us, to provide for our needs and desires, and that without us God cannot be happy?
  • Do we give the students a strong sense of God’s rightful authority over every aspect of their lives and that they are accountable to Him for every thought, desire, word, and action?

We would never want our children to go into a classroom with faulty electric wiring, dangerous wild animals on the loose, or poison-tainted juice for snack time. As parents and teachers, let’s be extremely diligent to not expose children to faulty and unbiblical teaching concerning the most important truths of all—the essential truths of the Gospel. As a teacher, I want to be faithful to the Gospel. But I also know that I must be wise, discerning, and on guard every time I teach so that these types of subtleties do not creep into my teaching, however inadvertently.

(Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Understanding the Meaning

ID-100146182Learning to think deeply and understand rightly is hard work. Period!  This is especially true when it comes to the Bible. Therefore, we believe that Christian parents and the church need to pursue a rigorous study of the Bible and training of the mind for our children and youth. Here is how we state this in our core principles:

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

As parents and teachers, we cannot not teach what we do not know and understand. Desiring God has provided a very informative video, “Basics for Reading the Bible,” whereby John Piper talks about the necessity of understanding the true meaning of a text. In it, he defines what is meant by “meaning” and “understanding.” As a teacher who longs to pass on “a rigorous study of the Bible” to my students, I found his definitions and explanations really helpful.

You can watch the video here. His discussion of the above is from the 3- to 11-minute mark.

(Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Teaching the Hard Parts to Young Ears

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In her seminar “Teaching the Difficult Doctrines in Children’s Ministry,” Sally Michael addresses the  sentiments of yesterday’s post, “Can We Just Skip that Part?” concerning the necessity of teaching children the “raw parts” of Scripture—the violence, adultery, etc…She answers the common objection that these parts are inappropriate to teach to children. She states the following:

  • An average American child will see 200,000 violent acts and 16,000 murders on TV by age 18 (according to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary’s report on “Children, Violence, and the Media” in 1999)
  • Programs designed for children more often contain violence than adult TV (according to the National Television Violence Study in 1998)

It’s ironic that parents who often let their children watch these films object to teaching the hard truths of the Bible. The Bible puts all these hard things in the proper perspective—Hollywood doesn’t.

Sally then gives an example from her daughter’s experience as a young child in reading about God’s command to the Israelites to kill the Canaanites. Sally asked her daughter,

“God told them to kill the women, children, and animals. Does that bother you?”

Her daughter’s response,

“No, because God had to do this because He loves his people, and He didn’t want the bad people with His people.”

This is the benefit of teaching the whole counsel of God—God’s judgment is rightly understood in the context of His holiness and His protection of His elect…

The Bible is full of “inappropriate truth”—two daughters who plot to get pregnant by their father; a brother who pretends to be sick and violates his sister; a king who commits adultery and then murder; a woman who drives a tent peg through a man’s head; a seductive young woman who dances before her drunken stepfather and a crowd of lustful men who then demands the head of a prophet on a platter…and a Savior nailed to a cross.

The Bible does not shield us from the unpleasant and the ugly—it is a true portrayal of mankind. But the Bible always presents these realities appropriately and without unnecessary details, with the aim of producing a correct heart response. We can do the same.

You can watch Sally’s seminar here. Not only does she address teaching the “raw parts” of Scripture, but more importantly, the necessity of teaching children the difficult doctrines of Scripture.

(Image courtesy of Iamnee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Can We Just Skip that Part?

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Lately, I’ve been reading through the book of Ezekiel in my morning Bible devotional time. Oh my, some of words and imagery are quite…blunt, to put it mildly. Yet, even this part of Scripture “is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” (2 Timothy 3:16 ESV). That being said, would I include Ezekiel 16 in a first grader’s Bible reading plan? Probably not. But sooner or later, we must expose our children to these parts of Scripture and be prepared to explain them in a truthful yet age-appropriate manner. Why not just skip over these parts? Consider these words from Pastor Robert Brady:

As a pastor, I sometimes have parents express concern about that to which their young children are being exposed in church. Whether it is a reference to the Old Covenant sign of circumcision going on the male reproductive organ or some part of a biblical story being discussed in Sunday School—there is no way to avoid exposing our children to the raw portions of Scripture in a biblically faithful church. In fact, I would suggest that we are called to expose them to the reality of these things in the right way. 

  • God commands it.
  • Culture necessitates it.
  • Our hearts need it.

(From, “Teaching Our Children the Raw Parts of Scripture” at www.reformation21.org)

I would strongly encourage every pastor, parent, and Sunday school teacher to read the entire article (available here.)

(Image courtesy of Iamnee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

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