But, What About… The Bible?

In a recent blog post, I wrote for David C. Cook’s content site for kids ministry leaders called Spark. I talked about in recent years there has been similar language used by apostates in explaining their “de-construction” stories. One of those familiar tunes they all seem to play is the God of the Old Testament vs. the God of the New. These arguments that modern apostates pose have a cascading effect. Once you attack the nature of God, the next domino to fall is the authority of scripture. What is interesting is that those who apostatize follow the same path that that theologians follow in systematic theology. Apostates tear down the foundations that have been systematically laid.

I had a conversation with my good friend Jana Magruder Director of LifeWay Kids. She recently wrote a book called Nothing Less: Engaging Kids in a Lifetime of Faith. In this book, she and her team discuss the results of a survey done by LifeWay. They found nine indicators that led to lifelog faith in kids. The most surprising finding was that the number one indicator of a lifelong faith is not the faith of your parents. It isn’t church attendance; it isn’t even generations of attendance in the same church. The number one indicator of a lifelong faith is Bible reading. And it’s not even close.

Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian

A. W. Tozer

A.W. Tozer says, “Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian,” this Jana says is the basis of the book that they wrote. Jana said at LifeWay they were looking for what creates lifelong faith in kids.

At first, we were looking for a formula for a recipe that if we could get this right, we could have more assurance that our kids are not going to leave the church as a different research study says. So many leave and some come back. What can we do as parents and pastors? When we got the results back, our research team came back to us. It said you know you’ve got the number one answer. It is so far away from numbers two, three, and four that it really needs to be in its own separate category, so as you write this book, don’t make it look like number one was this then number two after that… it needs to stand alone, it needs to have its own place. Our research shows it so far in importance and value from the other things. The answer was Bible reading.

Jana Magruder

Jana said that this finding is “profound because it’s not the first thing our brains go to.” In Nothing Less, Jana and her team reveal this is not what we are chasing as a culture. Travel sports, grades, private school, Christian school, home school, big church or small church…” None of these made the difference Bible reading did.

 I think the reason why we miss this is because while we may value scripture, I’m not sure we see it as authoritative.

Never Waste A Crisis

Machiavelli first said, “Never waste the opportunity offered by a good crisis.” In the modern era, this sentiment has been wrongfully attributed to Winston Churchill (as I had done as well the first time I posted this blog post.) It was Rahm Emanuel who popularized Machiavelli for this generation by saying “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” he said. Why? Because “it’s an opportunity to do things you could not do before.” It was during the economic crisis of 2008 Emanuel and his cohorts used the cover of crisis to deepen their hold in our Republic. Republicans and Democrats differ on many things one thing they both agree on is more power and more influence is better than less. A crisis, therefore, allows politicians to consolidate power and expand influence. To use their strength to grow stronger by preying on the weaknesses of others. A crisis is an opportunity for them to boast in their strength.

For the Christian, the idea of not wasting a crisis is altogether different, rather than projecting strength at the expense of others you boast in your weakness. Paul says in 2 Corinthians that as Christians, servants of God we commend ourselves not in our self-confidence, not in our success but actually in our weakness.

But, What About… The Canaanite Conquest?

In a recent blog post, I wrote for David C. Cook’s content site for kids ministry leaders called Spark I talked about in recent years how the paths that apostates take their “de-construction” stories have a familiar ring to them. One of those familiar tunes they all seem to play is the God of the Old Testament vs. the God of the New. This is where problems seem to start with most modern apostates. They see the God of the Old Testament as a grumpy, angry, indefensible curmudgeon whose actions are embarrassing and shameful. They contrast this angry God with the all-loving view of Jesus that modern evangelicalism seems to be pushing to fill seats.

Because they see God as only love to the exclusion of His justice and holiness, they cannot reconcile how God could order Israel to destroy whole groups of people—in their conquest of Canaan—and still be good. How could the God of love order His chosen people to kill and destroy in His name?

Once you separate the attributes of God or feel that you can no longer “defend Him,” you invariably erode the authority of Scripture. Because it no longer presents a holistic view of who God is from the Garden to the City.

I have heard many people say that “all the Bible is inspired, but not all of the Bible is applicable for children.” I agree with this statement to a point. The problem I have is in the application of this line of thinking. The problem with saying, “not all of the Bible is applicable for kids is you edit the Bible for kids. The result of this edited version of their faith causes them to grow up inoculated with the gospel rather than gripped by it. If you sanitize the stories of the Bible and avoid the hard stories, our understanding of sin is muddied, and our need for salvation is minimized.

If you sanitize the stories of the Bible and avoid the hard stories, our understanding of sin is muddied, and our need for salvation is minimized.

We don’t get to decide if something is applicable for kids what our job as communicators of the gospel is HOW do we apply it to kids. Do kids need to hear the story of Hosea and Gomer? YES. Do they need to listen to the ins and outs of ancient or modern prostitution? No. They need to hear that God loves us with relentless love, just like Hosea loved Gomer. In our desire to find happiness, we turn from God over and over again, love other things more than him. Just like Gomer left Hosea over and over.

So what about the Canaanite conquest? The reason this becomes an issue is that we spend eighteen years of our kids lives telling our kids that God is not just love as the Bible states, but “only” love as the Bible never says. In elevating one of his attributes over the others, we end up with a picture of God that is incompatible with the reality of God.

I recently saw a debate on Facebook, asking if we should cut pictures of Jesus out of the curriculums we use. This is a question worth asking as we should do all that we can to avoid breaking the second commandment. The question we should ask and rarely ever do is this “Have I made God in my own image?” Do I say that “my God would never do that?” What we say when we talk about God forms who God is and is not in the hearts and minds of our kids. It’s important that when we talk about God, we talk about God in the ways he has revealed himself in Scripture.

The primary problem we have with the Canaanite conquest, and when we read the Old Testament, is often people say, “my God would never do that.” We in subtle and overt ways prefer the God of the New Testament to the God of the Old. We think that the God of the Old Testament is different. Leading some major evangelical leaders to separate the two.

What do you think of when you think about God?

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.

A. W. Tozer

What we think about God reveals a lot about what we believe God is and is not. Lewis had a different take. He said what God thinks about us is the most important thing about us.

I read in a periodical the other day that the fundamental thing is how we think of God.
By God Himself, it is not! How God thinks of us is not only more important, but infinitely more important. Indeed, how we think of Him is of no importance except in so far as it is related to how He thinks of us.

C. S. Lewis

I side with Tozer on this one. For the reason that how we have formed God in our minds reveals how he has revealed himself to us. We can only see him if he opens our eyes to see him. In all honesty, this is a false chose both are the most important but each one tells us something different. What God thinks about us reveals the ground of our salvation. What we think about God shows the fruit of our salvation.

A few nights ago I was putting my youngest daughter to bed and she asked me if closing your eyes and thinking about God was bad. She said this because we discourage the spiritual practices of yoga with our kids. I told her closing your eyes and thinking about God and his word were not bad at all, in fact, its something we should do. She responded by saying “ok, good.” So I asked her “Baby, what do you think about when you think about God?” I was nearly moved to tears, her reply both convicted and moved me. She said “I think about how good He has been to me. I think about how even if we don’t have bread he can make it rain from the sky.”

“I think about how good he has been to me.” God used my six-year-old to preach the gospel to me.

I said what else do you think about when you think about God? She then said, “Dad you know about Clifford the Big Red Dog?” I said “Yes” she laughed sweetly and said, “I asked God for more episodes because I have watched them all. And he heard me they made a new Clifford.” I knew she disliked the new one because Emily and Clifford talk to each other. I said, “But the new one isn’t good is it?” She said, “No daddy, I don’t like the new one.” I told her I was sorry. “It’s ok,” she replied. “God told me that I need to be thankful for what I have.”

My daughter in a two-minute conversation just preached me the essence of a Gospel-centered life. A life marked by the gospel will produce humble gratitude.

This is why I love my church. They are more concerned with kids loving Jesus than kids loving church.

If my daughter by God’s grace continues to think about those things when she thinks about God she will never lose her passion for the church. In our desire for relevance and for pragmatic effectiveness, I think we are missing what matters most. We rightly want our kids to love the church. Yet I think our desires are misguided. What I have found to be the case in my life and in the lives of those who have come through our church over the years When we teach our kids to love Jesus they will love the church. Discipleship isn’t a word we talk enough about in kids and youth ministry. That needs to change. Rather than trying to attract lots of kids each week lets ask a different question. Let’s ask “How can we help our kids see what God has done for them in Christ this week?”

How do we disciple kids in such a way that they love Jesus more as a result?

  1. Point every story back to Jesus. – Don’t be a weirdo and force Jesus where he doesn’t belong but be sure to point them to the larger story that the Bible is telling about what God is like.
  2. Remind them of what God has done for them in Christ. – Don’t just talk about the sin and the cross once a year remind them of the saving life-transforming work of Jesus every week.
  3. Tell them stories of missionaries who gave everything for the gospel. Pray for missionaries who are in harm’s way because of what they believe. We do this daily with our kids.
  4. Ask them when they think of God what do they think about – This one is scary because it is probably one of the more immediate indications of your discipleship of your children. Who have you told your kids God is. Who have you shown your kids through your actions is worthy of your trust.

When you think about God what do you think about? It may not be the most important question but I can think of no better gospel diagnostic. Ask your kids this question often but first, ask yourself. “What do I think about when I think about God?”

Kids Can Handle More Than You Think

One of my favorite moves of all time is UP by Pixar. Up always reminds me that kids can handle hard things. In the course of the two hours this “kids” movie addresses, death, miscarriage, and divorce. How does Pixar tackle those topics? With story. The story of UP is simple but powerful. Up is really fun and most of all it’s incredibly moving. I think as parents or leaders we tend to protect kids from difficult topics or shelter them from the hard stories of the Bible. To avoid the temptation to skip hard conversation because kids aren’t ready.

How do you handle hard truths for kids?

  1. Start by not avoiding hard truths because they are hard.
  2. Tell them the truth in a story – Jesus did this before Pixar did.
  3. Tell them with humor – Use appropriate humor to disarm and protect the kids you are speaking to.
  4. Be truthful – Don’t lie to make it easier, don’t skip parts of the Bible. The idea that certain parts of the Bible are not appropriate for kids isn’t true. The question isn’t appropriateness but rather “How can I teach this truth in an age-appropriate way.”
  5. Show kids Jesus – teach kids that when we don’t fully understand everything which we won’t because we are finite. What we do know about Jesus allows us to trust what we can never know to Jesus.
  6. Lastly, tell them – tell them of the hard stuff you have been through and how Jesus has been faithful in the middle of it all.