Human Sin: Avoiding Two Traps

14 06 2016

My wife doesn’t like this word, but sin sucks! Children are aware of their own sin. When approaching the topic of sin avoid these two traps: 1) Gloss over sin saying, “That’s just kids being kids.” (Seeds planted soon grow.) 2) Squash children with an overbearing weight of impossible expectations. Rather, teach awareness of personal and mass sinfulness while always holding onto hope that God has a way out.

Thorns

Sin is anything we think, say or do that does not please God.

-Child Evangelism Fellowship

No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds.

-Galatians 6:7-8

Glossy

Because children are aware of so much wrong around them, glossing over it, watering it down, ignoring it or flat out denying it only masks an oozing wound. A wound that’s infected must first be recognized before it can be cleaned. A seed of sinfulness planted will soon become an unwanted, choking weed.

Squashy

Because children are so trusting and delicate, they can be easily squashed and crushed under the weight of heavy burdens that we may put on them to act right. The wound is opened further with forced conformity and children may respond in one of two ways: 1) withdraw and pretend to behave well or, 2) resist and rebel.

Mix-y

I wonder if there’s a middle ground here-perhaps a beneficial mix. Not between glossing and squashing, but take a closer look at what good may possibly be embedded in these mindsets. I like the words awareness and hope. People who gloss may tend to want hope, however, they distort it. People who squash may tend to promote awareness, but they dwell on it. Let’s mix ’em.

Awareness and honest assessment of my personal sin will cause varying degrees of guilt and grief. This is actually a good thing, but not on its own. Hope comes along and shows us the way to complete relief and freedom from the oppression of sin. So with children, we show them the serious effects of sin which can lead to repentance (change of heart and mind), but also show them hope in a God who makes things right and brings us back together.

Here’s a simple and effective visual you can use with children to explain the effects of sin and the reward of hope. Hold your two fists together. Talk about close and enjoyable relationship. Pull your fists apart. Talk about the pain of a good relationship that is separated. Bring your fists back together again and celebrate the joy of coming back to good relationship. You could even try moving your fists slowly apart to illustrate little sins building up over time. Or try moving your fists apart quickly to illustrate something more harmful.

 

That’s what sin does: separates. 

That’s what hope does: rejoins.

Lord, don’t let sin crush us. Deliver us!





Trinity: Perplexing Mystery, Fascinating Hope

31 05 2016

Have you ever tried talking to children about Jesus being equal with God the Father and just ended up stumbling over your words? Then try saying that there’s a Holy Spirit too and he’s God, but there’s still just one God. Perhaps we can use words like these when explaining Trinity to children: “Thanks to Jesus Christ, we can have closeness with God the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Let your clarifications flow from this.

Understanding God as triune is a non-negotiable dimension of the gospel.

-Stanley Grenz

…for through [Jesus Christ we] have access in one Spirit to the Father.”

-Ephesians 2:17-18

Epic Quest

Understanding the Trinity is a perplexing mystery and yet, it is a fascinating hope worth gazing on.

Consider the galaxy. It’s vastness overcomes our sense of wonder. But at the same time it continually draws us into a longing to discover every aspect of it.

The unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as three distinct persons is like this. Our little human minds fail to properly understand this God, but at the same time, we are fascinated with the pursuit of knowing God personally. The Trinity pictures for us unity, diversity, loving relationship, unique roles, one source of life and various expressions of life.

With children, however, the complexities of these thoughts can quickly be lost. As I recommend in another post, let’s keep it simple. But keeping it simple does not mean boring or dry. We can stir up children’s imaginations and propel them to want more.

Let’s send kids on an epic quest of endless discovery of their Creator, Lord and Best Friend.

Let’s break down my kid-friendly description of the Trinity: “Thanks to Jesus Christ, we can have closeness with God the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Thanks to Jesus Christ

Without Jesus (being God/deity, becoming human/humanity, bringing together/atonement, etc.) we can’t come to God. He makes forever friendship with God possible. He defeats death, which is the opposite of God who brings life to all things. He shows us what God is like. So we teach kids to thank Jesus for what he’s done for us.

Closeness with God the Father

God is Father to Creation, all-powerful, all-knowing and everywhere-present. We honour God to remember this. Furthermore, God is all-loving and endlessly kind. A simple way to start this conversation with children is to say, “God is great and God is good.” While God is super strong, he also wants to be crazy close.

Holy Spirit Power

The Holy Spirit gives us power to come alive. He connects us to the Father. He fills us with all godly things. He helps us live as God designed us to. He is not the force. He has much better power than that. So we teach children to want the power of God in them.

The Father creates life, Jesus brings back life and the Holy Spirit empowers life. God is all about life (one God). Each member of the Trinity shows off that life in different ways. Trinity: One God united and three diverse persons. This is over simplistic, but I find it helpful to say big truths in small ways and in many ways. Don’t lose sight of the Quest!

What are your own ways to speak of these big truths with your children?

Lord, I want to understand how you are one great God, and three distinct persons!





Human Worth: How to See the Good in Others

25 05 2016

Why is it that so many of us feel worthless? Why is it that so much of the world treats others as worthless? Whatever the reason, let me state something very clear: you…have…worth! God made us to be like him. No other creature is given that gift. So see the good that God sees. Draw out the wonders kids have buried in them. When we see people the way God sees them, we will treat them with higher honour. Kids matter to God. We matter to God. You and the children in your life are not throw-aways.

teddybearstreet.gratisography

I love mankind – it’s people I can’t stand!

-Linus (Charles Schulz)

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, after our likeness.”

-Genesis 1:26

See the Good

Seeing the good in kids takes practice. It starts with seeing the good in yourself. If God looks at you and says, “You are very good,” there must be a reason for it.

Think of this practice as a treasure hunt.

Hunt for glimpses of hope, joy, kindness, or thoughtfulness. It’s easy and, quite frankly, lazy to just notice what’s wrong. Be on the lookout for talents, abilities, character traits, gifts, potential, development, skills, effort, attitude.

Then, when you’ve seen the good, notice it. Comment on it. Develop it further. Celebrate the image of God. Look for and draw out the image of God wherever you are, wherever you go.

Tips for Noticing Worth

Here are some quick and powerful ideas for adding value in your family and with the children in your life:

  • Names. Making the effort to remember kids names you don’t know quickly increases your connection with them. Nicknames and affirming labels with children can be fun and also meaningful.
  • Attention. Locking in with kids shows you care. Authentically listen and show interest in what they’re interested in.
  • Ask. When it’s all about you, you won’t express interest in others. Asking thoughtful questions tells a child they have a voice and have something worth sharing with the group or family. Beware of dominating conversations.
  • Sympathy and Empathy. The dictionary shows the similarity and difference between these two words. Sympathy is to suffer or feel with or alongside. Empathy is to suffer or feel within. In other words, sympathy comes alongside someone in an attempt to care. Empathy internalizes and identifies with those feelings. The former shows worth because the other person is noticed and compassion is expressed. The latter shows worth because there is identification and understanding-a mile was walked in the other’s shoes.
  • Imitate God. John Maxwell said, “If I want to add value to people, I will do the things that God values.” Lay aside your own interests, serve, care for the least lovable, continue loving when it’s hard and forgive and forgive again.

How have you shown worth to children recently?

Lord, we celebrate the worth you give us.





God Creates: 3 Life-Giving Reminders for Children

17 05 2016

When God speaks, great things happen. Nothing impure ever comes from his lips. The universe is astonishing and it came into existence with his voice. Life comes from God. Not only does he give life, but he also cares about lives. Toby Mac has a great song called Speak Life. Each day we have God’s creative potential to speak life into the world. What will you create this week with God’s power? How can you forge something new with children?

…See and experience the beauty of God through nature…”

-Ric Ergenbright, photographer

When I consider…the work of your fingers…what is man that you are mindful of him?”

-Psalm 8:3-4

Serving, teaching, raising and leading children using creation is a wonderful experience. Have you ever seen a young child react to new discoveries? The amazement on their face is contagious. Let’s consider how using creation with children can be a powerful reminder of God’s presence and activity in our lives. Let’s do a little life-giving CPR. Create, Pronounce, Recall.

Create

Experience creation with your children. There’s always something to share even if it’s dirt.

  • Ask questions such as, “What do you see? No, really. What do you see?” Asking that question again promotes looking at what’s familiar from different angles to really perceive what your child is seeing. Good observation is an important life-skill.
  • Use grass, sticks, acorns, flowers, etc. Use everyday materials and make something with them.
  • Who needs play dough? (Although that’s an excellent creative tool). Take some dirt, add a bit of water and you have some wonderful mud to mold with.
  • You can quickly grab your device and pull up a picture or prepare ahead of time to print off some larger pictures of landscapes, waterways or strange animals.
  • Pictures can be used to set the scene of a Bible story or imagine a personal experience.

Pronounce proclaim

Let’s declare God’s greatness as we see all around us in his creation. Let’s talk about the life he gives all around us. Let’s speak life into the death we see. What I mean by this is that although God has created an astonishing universe, it is clearly marred by sin. This sin has brought death, suffering, sadness and pain. Kids feel it too. But we can be life-givers as we courageously speak hope into the world.

Do not despair. Whether you have a weekly small group on a Sunday morning or as you wake up with your tired littlest one at home, we have a unique opportunity to push aside the dirt to reveal a flower. We can pull back the curtains to show where there is light.

My front garden has beautiful yellow tulips in it. It’s almost as if they hide when it rains and when it gets dark. Are they afraid? Will they ever open again? Are they withdrawing from adversity? They close as a benefit to themselves. But then they open wide. It can be beneficial to close ourselves from difficulty to protect something valuable. But when we stay closed we miss what we are made for! Just like the tulip opens wide after the darkness or the rain, we don’t despair, but speak life and give life to those around us. Create something uplifting for someone else today.

Do you remember Gandalf riding Shadowfax toward the orc army? His staff raised with beams of light emanating from it? His light pushed back the darkness. That’s you. Your words speak life. Your words bring hope. Your delight is shared. Our God is still creating life today!

Recall

Now after you’ve drawn attention to creation, be intentional about what was seen and experienced. Use it to draw attention to the Creator. This highlights a huge difference between popular messages of naturalism and believe-in-youselfism. All power comes from God, not from “within”. All worship is directed towards God and not to ourselves.

I love to use creation when teaching about the Gospel. It’s a fast way to engage with children and you can do two things with it.

  1. First, explore the wonder of original paradise.
  2. Second, long for the restoration of original paradise.

The stories of the Bible can all draw us to this focus. There’s this massive gap that we live in between the two paradises. We see this often when discussing the wars, the fights or the hostility towards Jesus Christ. But we see glimpses throughout Scripture that God’s creative power is constantly at work and will one day cause our jaws to drop when we see the new heavens and the new earth.

Just like a little one who discovers something amazing and says, “Do it again!” we can choose to be continually amazed with God’s creative and life-giving power. Don’t let it get old!

Lord, show us your creative power again.

How have you used creation to remind children of the wonders of God?





God Speaks (A Story Better than Fuzzy Peaches)

10 05 2016

Foundational to our understanding of God is his direct communication with us. God spoke to Adam. He spoke to Abraham. He spoke to Moses. He spoke through the prophets. He loudly speaks through his Son, the Lord, Jesus Christ. He still speaks through his Spirit. Teaching this to children through these real-life stories reminds us that God is not far off, but near and transformational. You can tell kids this week that God created them and has important things to say to them!

[The Word] is the divine Actor, acting in creation and redemption…

-R.C. Sproul

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

-John 1:14

How else could we know God if he did not show up? In real life. With real life experiences. In flesh and blood.

So how do we communicate this to children in our homes or in church community? Through story.

God shows himself to us in history-HIS STORY. When Abraham was twiddling his thumbs (aka: flying Terrence, the Red Bird, into those green pigs), God transplanted him to a new destiny and made him a blessing to the world. When Moses was content combing sheep hair (or, you know, brushing Rapunzel’s glowing, tangled locks), God lit a fire and swept him up in an amazing deliverance epic. When kingdoms abused the innocent, committed atrocities and accumulated gratuitous wealth (such as cutting in line, or not sharing those incredible fuzzy peaches), God sent messengers (the prophets) to warn them of pending disaster, but also to speak the promise of rescue.

Then, once upon a silent night, a light changed everything. Jesus, the Word, showed the world its great sin and made forgiveness and forever life available through his power shown to us in his life, death and resurrection.

Whoa! That’s worth some quality, story-telling time with our kids don’t you think? This God, who is Creator of the Universe, wants me to be involved in his story with his people to experience real, forever life? He wants to speak to me? He wants me to be like him?

Let’s share the life-transforming Word this week.

What life-giving story did you tell a child this week?

Lord, I want to hear your words of life.





Knowing God: 2 Steps and a Metaphor

26 04 2016

God takes the first step in making himself known. He creates. He relates. He reveals. He writes. He speaks. He reminds. He loves. We respond to him. We listen. We look. We speak. We receive. We love. Connect this truth to a child’s heart this week. The God of the universe wants to be known and we can know him. And if we truly desire to know him, we will spend time with him not unlike how we spend time with the people we love.

The man who would truly know God must give time to Him.

-A.W. Tozer

I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God…

-Exodus 6:7

God Knows

My young daughter once asked, “Why do I have lungs?” Well of course there’s the obvious and scientific answer, “So you can breathe,” which is a whole lot of fun to explore. But in that question there is a world of supernatural discovery waiting to happen. There is no way we could have lungs unless God wanted us to have them and then made it so. We cannot breathe unless God gives us the power to breathe.

One “random” moment of relationship in our family time provided an impetus for a brief, but lively conversation about God’s presence. God created all things and gives humans an astounding ability to relate to himself. All that he has created provides us with a compelling reason to want to know him.

In addition, God shows himself through his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the face of God.

If you really know me, you will know my Father as well.

Joh 14:7

God knows all about us and makes it possible for us to know him.

We Know

Of course, knowing that God created and that Jesus is the perfect image of God, doesn’t mean we really know God. When talking with children about knowing God, please, please, please don’t just relay stories and facts! Inspire them to relate to this God who is very active in their lives.

When the Bible speaks of knowing God it never has information alone in mind. It always includes experiential knowledge. Show children how they can really know God’s presence, and how they can experience a family friendship with him. Consider these parallels:

Family

  • A child sits with his parents-we can simply acknowledge God’s presence
  • A child feels secure-we can rest and enjoy life as a gift from God
  • A child chimes in-we can feel comfortable approaching God anytime
  • A child chats-we can simply tell God what’s on our mind anytime, anywhere
  • A child listens-we can honour and respect God by listening to his Word and Holy Spirit
  • A child plays-we can know God more as we enjoy what he created for us
  • A child obeys-we know God has good plans for us and we follow those plans
  • A child explores-we investigate, examine, ask questions, touch, hold, taste, see
  • A child receives-we don’t have to earn God’s gifts! Bask in them.
  • A child wants and expects attention-spend uninterrupted time with your Creator

What further parallels do you notice about relating to God as a child would relate to a good parent?

Lord, I want to know you so children will too.





God Talk: Awakening Curiosity

19 04 2016

Dive into any topic far enough and you’ll get overwhelming feelings. Dive into technical discussions about God and your head will spin! Let’s keep this simple. GOD IS GOD and we are not. When talking about God in your family or with the family of God, don’t turn it into a competition of who knows more. Don’t feel inferior for knowing less. Just keep the conversation going. This week, when you’re around a child, ask them what they think God is like. Then, without correcting them or agreeing with them, simply say, “Hmmm.”

Theology is talk about God.

-Rolf A. Jacobson

“If…they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.”

-Exodus 3:13-14

When we come to conversations about God, we do well to maintain a humble posture. Especially with children. When talking about God with children, if we try to act knowledgeable, our words will sail over their heads and they’ll move on to something else. So speak simply. Remain in awe. Admit that you don’t fully understand. Tell them that you’re okay with it.

Competition

When talking about God becomes a competition, everyone loses. You lose when you dominate another person’s point of view. You lose when you back away because you think you don’t know enough. I’d rather view this as a quest over a competition.

Conversation

Just talk. Enjoy the ride. Make statements, but also ask questions. Be an exceptional listener. The simple lead, “Tell me more about that,” invites further dialogue and opens up diverse perspectives. Now I’m not saying that you simply accept whatever opinion is shared. We can disagree, but let’s do it respectfully and with the desire to honour the relationship.

Curiosity

Be continuously curious. I think that’s how God created us to be and so we should be. Get out there and explore. Challenge ideas. Invite wonder. Say, “Hmmmm,” and just linger for a moment. With young children these conversations will be fleeting and quick, but the more you stoke a child’s innate sense of curiosity the better you propel them toward a lifetime of seeking God. Conversely, the more you shut down ideas with your own domineering convictions, the less likely children will grow up with a desire to express their own opinions.

Lord, I want to bask in the wonder of YOU.








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