Tasting Heaven in the Backyard

Our 20 month-old Titus, a brute of a boy, was churning his chunky legs up the grassy hill with a determined, yet jovial look on his face. He was on mission to find a Black and Decker toy drill. He is a boy’s boy. Tools, balls, trucks, tractors, dirt, collisions. He was in heaven.

We were hanging out with close friends of ours in their backyard. As we watched Titus, and the other five kids in the backyard, I said that I love seeing my children happy. Titus prowled the backyard for balls and rocks and drills. And he was happy. My daughters were rolling down the hill with old friends and swinging and sliding the evening away. And they were happy. And in that moment I found my happiness in theirs.

I told my wife and our friends that seeing my kids’ uninhibited, unadulterated happiness (you might use the word “joy,” and that’s a good word, too; I’m using them interchangeably here) reminds me of Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “Heaven, A World of Love.” At one point in the sermon, Edwards says that in heaven we will “all rejoice in [other people] being the most happy.” Edwards is saying that in heaven our happiness will be in the happiness of others. For example, in heaven, if someone has a greater amount of rewards than you, you will not be envious of them. You will enjoy their enjoyment of what God has given them. Can you imagine?! In other words, you’ll not just be happy for them, you will find your happiness in their happiness. This is true love. This is how God designed human relationships to work.

Yet this is very often not true in this life. In fact, it’s too easy to become crotchety and cynical when others are happy. I might be happy for them. “Oh, I’m so happy that you got the credit for your hard work.” This might actually be a prideful reflex masked with a token gesture. What’s really going on in my heart is that I wanted the credit!

With my children last night in the backyard, it was another story. I delighted in their delight. I am giggly, smiley happy when they giggle, smile, or express their happiness as they only know how. It’s not mainly because in those moments they aren’t screaming about a toy, whining about being hungry, or fighting over who gets to brush teeth first. It’s something deeper that God has embedded into the hearts of human beings, Christian or not. It’s a signal to us that we were made for another world, a world of love where we will actually, truly be happy because others are happy. It was a foretaste of heaven right in our friends’ backyard. It was a small, gracious gift meant to remind us there is much, much more to come.


The Next Dude Perfect

Dude Perfect, have you seen this kid? (HT: Kevin DeYoung)

If you aren’t aware of Dude Perfect…

Life Theology

What Should Family Worship Look Like?

As a father of two daughters (one outside the womb and one inside), I am continually thinking about the gospel-shaped environment of our home. Carly and I want our girls to grow up dazzled by the grace of God in the gospel. As the husband and father, it is my divinely-ordained joy and duty to pray about and plan intentional opportunities to cultivate a “gospel culture” in our home. (If you are a single mom or the wife of an unbeliever, keep reading. I hope this will be helpful to you, too!) The problem is that if I don’t plan now and decide beforehand what we will do as parents to train our children, nothing will happen. Even though our oldest girl is seventeen months old and literally has a fifteen second attention span (if food is involved), it’s never too early (or too late!) to ask, “What should family worship look like?”

By “family worship,” I mean intentional, structured, and systematic times of instruction, reading, praying, and singing together. You may wonder, “Shouldn’t we just make sure our whole lives are about Jesus? Why emphasize this formal stuff?” Yes, we should not just be a Christian family for thirty minutes a night plus an hour on Sunday mornings. In ancient Israel, parents were called to rehearse the glory of God’s redemption in the Exodus during their normal daily rhythms (Deut. 6:7). This, too, is worship, and the same should be true for Christian parents today.

Yet at the same time, God also commanded parents to establish formal times of instruction and worship (Deut. 6:6, 8-9). This would provide opportunities for children to ask questions of their parents and for parents to properly interpret God’s redemption to their children (Deut. 6:20-25). In the New Testament, Paul tells fathers to bring their children up in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4), certainly implying structure.

What then should family worship look like? The Bible doesn’t give a prescription, and I don’t have all the answers (after all, my kids are seventeen months and twenty weeks in utero!). But as I reflect on it, here are some major elements of family worship that can help cultivate, by the Spirit’s power, a gospel-shaped home:

  • Reading Scripture. This is essential. At the very least, we need to read Scripture with our children, and teach them how to understand the Bible. We must show them that it is a story of how God rescues his children through Jesus, the Hero of the story. By God’s grace, we use the Bible to expose our children’s sin and help them see how the Hero is the solution to everything they truly need. 
  • Prayer. When we pray, we should pray meaningfully. While good grades, thanks for the sunshine, and requesting good night sleep are important, what we really need to pray for is spiritual renewal and growth. Our kids will pick up whether or not we are shallow pray-ers. They will pray about what we pray about. When we pray together, I want the flavor of Scripture, not scattered thoughts, to saturate my prayers. I want to be quick repent of my sin, exalt Christ, and be bold to ask God to open my kids’ eyes to their need and that he gives them faith in Jesus.
  • Reciting the Apostles’ Creed. Christians have been reciting the Creed since the second century and for good reason. It summarizes the absolute fundamentals of the faith in an easy-to-remember way. (You can sing it, if you’d rather. I usually sing it to our oldest daughter as I’m putting her to bed.) This is a simple way to instruct our kids in what we believe. It is not boring theology! It is about God! If you are not into theology, you are not into God. We never move past belief, and saying, “I believe in God the Father Almighty…” is, indeed, a profoundly theological thing to say. The question is not whether we and our children will be theologians; the question is whether we will be good ones.
  • Catechesis. Don’t freak out! Catechesis (or catechism) simply comes from a Greek word meaning “to teach.” Call it whatever you want, but the point is that to “discipline and instruct” our children in the gospel, we must have a systematic plan. Forging catechesis and Scripture together can make things easier. There are so many resources out there including a new interactive catechism called New City Catechism (with video teaching and settings for child or adult). You can even put it on your iPad. There’s also a number of other books/children’s Bibles that can be used in a catechetical (teaching) manner: The Jesus Storybook Bible, Long Story Shortand Big Truths for Young Hearts
  • Singing. Pick up a hymnal or put in a worship CD and start singing! What matters is not how we sing, but that we sing. Did you realize that the longest book in our Bibles, the Psalms, is a songbook! Right now, we’re singing songs like “Jesus Loves Me” and “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” But every now and then we break out “Amazing Grace,” “Thy Mercy My God,” “Jesus Paid It All,” “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us,” or something else. Singing brings glory to God and joy to our hearts. I want our family to glorify God and be happy doing it.

I don’t have all the answers, and I know there will be frustrating “family worship” times when tempers flare and somebody leaves crying. We can’t control everything, but we can have a plan by God’s grace, be flexible, mix it up, and keep it simple. As parents, let’s lean into God’s grace, walk in the Spirit, get creative, be serious, have fun, and watch God work in the lives of our kids. I know he will.

Life Theology

God Loves His Little Pharisees and Prodigals

Part 2 in a 4 part series. View series intro and index.

In my last post, I made the point that in raising children and teaching them the Bible, the goal is not to make them nice kids who obey the rules. All people, including our children, are sinners who need a Redeemer who will rescue and deliver them from God’s wrath. No amount of rule keeping will make us right with God. If we truly believe that, it should drastically alter the way we raise our kids and instruct them at home and in church.

At the risk of over-generalization, most kids probably fall into two categories. On one hand, we have law-keeping Lewis. He is a good boy who loves always doing what Mommy and Daddy tell him to do. He stands a little taller when he obeys, especially when his sister does not. Speaking of his sister, she’s rule-breaking Rachel. Rachel knows that she can’t stack up to Lewis, so she makes her own rules. She cheats during games, shirks her chores, and scowls at Lewis for always being Mom’s favorite.

Does this sound familiar? The parable of the two sons in Luke 15:11-32 might ring a bell. The point is not mainly that Rachel (the younger brother in the parable) is an awful, sinful child. Likewise, the point is not mainly that Lewis (the elder brother in the parable) is a proud, self-righteous child. The main point is that God offers grace and redemption to both of them because both need it. You might give Lewis five gold stars for minding manners and doing chores, but you and I both know his heart is just as crooked as Rachel’s. If we are content with Lewis’ “obedience,” calling him a “good boy” and Rachel a “bad girl,” we end up raising a legalistic person who thinks they are accepted by God because of their merit, and Rachel learns this false theology in the process.

Now we can see why turning a Bible story into a moral lesson is dangerous. The apostle Paul thought he was the most moral man in the world, yet it amounted to garbage (Phil. 3:1-11). God does not require morality. The law was given to show our sin (Rom. 3:20). And the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-8)—which includes the “golden rule”—was given by Jesus to pull the rug out from under the Pharisees who thought the law was only about the letter and not the heart. God demands perfect obedience, including motive and intention. Only Jesus provides that (see Phil. 2:8; Rom. 5:18; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9). Perfect obedience is something neither Lewis nor Rachel can accomplish on their own.

Jesus’ perfect righteousness establishes our goodness before God, and our motivation for holy living. As Elyse Fitzpatrick writes in Give Them Grace:

Raising good kids is utterly impossible unless they are drawn by the Holy Spirit to put their faith in the goodness of another. You cannot raise good kids, because you’re not a good parent. There is only one good Parent, and he had one good Son. Together, this Father and Son accomplished everything that needed to be done to rescue us and our children from certain destruction. When we put our faith in him, he bestows the benediction upon us: ‘These are my beloved children, with whom I am well pleased’ (see Matt. 3:17)” (p. 50).

What do we as parents put our hope in then? The grace of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ for us! You might say, “That’s hard! My kids will go haywire if they hear about grace!” Really? Have you gone haywire because of God’s grace? If so, you don’t understand grace. I have heard it said before and I agree: I have never met a person who has been so captivated by God’s grace that they feel they have license to do whatever they want.

How does this all play out in children’s Bible lessons? We’ll tackle that in the next post.

Life Theology

Telling Our Kids the Best Story (Part 1)

Series Index:

  1. Telling Our Kids the Best Story
  2. God Loves His Little Pharisees and Prodigals
  3. Give Them Jesus, Not Morality
  4. Interpreting Stories With the Best Story

Part 1 in a 4 part series. View series intro and index.

The whole Bible is about Jesus. I say that lot on this blog. Probably in every post, one way or another. I say it so much so that I wonder if people get bored. Oh yeah, here comes the Jesus card again. What could be more exciting than the preeminent and all-satisfying Treasure of the universe? The challenge, then, is to be creative and fresh in pointing to Christ while still remaining biblical. We don’t want to allegorize or make an unwarranted connection. This takes hard work, but it’s possible.

This is necessary, of course, for preaching, teaching, and writing blogs. But it is also vital for children’s education. In fact, if we want our children to embrace the gospel and be salt and light in the world, we must make Christ the sum and focus of all our instruction.

If you have been around the church for any amount of time, the running joke is that the Sunday school answer is always “Jesus” to any given question. Despite this, many children’s ministries and Christian parents forget that, in fact, Jesus is the final answer for the Bible stories and spiritual lessons we teach our children.

The average children’s curriculum at an evangelical church is filled with Old Testament character studies or Jesus’ parables. A particular passage is read or the story is paraphrased, only to end with a line on how to be nice or kind or not lie. The point is clear: be more moral because that is what God wants! When we do this, little separates God’s self-revelation from Aesop’s Fables.

The goal of raising children and instructing them is not get them to be more moral. Our children are monsters on the inside from conception. They don’t learn to sin. They come out of the womb primed and ready, and they cannot learn to not sin. Our children, like us, are broken mirrors that need to be put back together in order to reflect his image. This cannot happen unless Jesus, the true image of God, is seen and embraced as the only Redeemer.

For the most part, children’s devotions remove a particular story of the from its redemptive-historical setting. This simply means that two things are being neglected: 1) the story’s original place along the timeline of history in God’s dealings with Israel, and 2) how the story testifies to the person and work of Jesus Christ, who is the fulfillment of all God’s dealings with Israel. You might respond, “Kids can’t understand this ‘theology’! But they can understand they aren’t supposed to lie!” I disagree. Kids are captivated by good stories, and good theology tells the best story.

When we reduce our gospel story to a moral lesson we are not helping our kids. That will only make them self-righteous little Pharisees. Even Jesus condemned the Pharisees for reading the Old Testament to find rules to follow (John 5:29; Matt. 23:1-39). Wouldn’t it be so much more glorious to tell our kids how the Bible is really one story with one Hero who has done for us all the things we are incapable of accomplishing for ourselves?