Wednesday, January 10, 2018

How to Help Your Kids Understand the Bible


(This article originally appeared in The Gospel Coalition on October 13, 2017.)
The best part about watching my firstborn learn to read was knowing he was well on his way to reading the Bible for himself. It was amazing to think God’s Word would be accessible to him.
But that was also an intimidating thought. Where to begin? It seemed overwhelming.
As parents, it’s tempting to hold back on the actual Bible because we think it’s too much, too heavy, and our kids can’t understand it. It feels like putting adult hiking boots on a toddler who’s just learned to walk. Let’s stick with picture books about Noah’s ark and Jonah’s fish.
But the Bible is for children, too. Jesus himself said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:14). We don’t have to hold back. But our kids do need guidance and direction. This is why God instructs parents to teach God’s law “when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut. 11:19).
In the book His Word Alone, Summer Lacy writes, “The biggest mistake you can make in regards to studying the Bible is to begin with the assumption that you can’t understand it.” Rather than assume our kids won’t grasp it, how can we purposely equip them for understanding?
When we hand our kids a Bible, there are two foundational truths to give them along with it.

1. THE BIBLE IS NOT ABOUT YOU 
It might surprise kids to learn that the Bible is for them but not primarily about them. Born self-centered, we naturally read the Bible through the lens of self. “What does this say about me? What am I supposed to do (or not do) right now?” Those aren’t bad questions, but they miss the main point. They jump straight to personal application without any foundation. Who is this God we’re supposed to obey? Why should we obey him? As parents, it’s our job to point our kids away from themselves to the real star of the show. I love how Bryan Chapell explains this point in his introduction to The Gospel Transformation Bible:
Jesus is the chief and culminating figure on this stage. The stage is set for him; all that transpires on the stage relates to him; and we do not fully understand anything on the stage until we have identified its relation to him.
If we want our kids to understand Scriptures, we must help them see Christ in all of it. It’s like giving them a decoder ring. Practical application suddenly has meaning. Self is put in its proper place, and obedience has true, lasting motivation.

2. THE BIBLE TELLS ONE STORY
Kids don’t typically think “big picture,” so they naturally read the Bible as isolated moral lessons. In his excellent book The Biggest Story, Kevin DeYoung writes, “Our kids can become acquainted with many Bible stories without ever grasping the Biggest Story that makes sense of all the others.” That “Biggest Story” is the gospel. The gospel isn’t just one of many stories in the Bible; it’s the ultimate story of the Bible. Our mission, then, is to help our children understand each individual story within the context of the ultimate story.
But how do we do that? Obviously the name “Jesus” is not on every page. Still, as Sally Lloyd-Jones puts it, “Every story whispers his name.” Or as Chapell goes on to say, “Our goal as Bible readers who are interpreting as Christ intends is not to try to make Jesus magically appear in every text, but to show where every text properly stands on this redemptive stage.”
No passage stands alone. Each one has a context within the gospel story—whether predicting Christ, preparing for Christ, reflecting on Christ, or resulting from Christ (Gospel Transformation Bible). If our kids already know what—or in this case, whom—to look for, the Bible instantly becomes easier to understand.

THREE QUESTIONS
Here are three questions to help Bible-reading kids begin to trade self-centered glasses for gospel-centered glasses.
  1. What does this passage teach me about God?
  2. What does this passage teach me about human beings (or myself)?
  3. What does this passage teach me about the need for and the coming of a Savior? 
Often the first two questions answer the third. Why not sit down with your kids and try this approach together? Pick a passage of Scripture and ask these three questions.
What about application? It’s coming. But begin by laying the foundation. Once your kids develop a habit of seeing answers to these three questions, they’ll then be able to ask, “What does God want me to do?” We can only apply the Bible properly to our lives when the gospel is the driving force.
So let’s give our kids the tools they need to be not merely informed by God’s Word, but transformed from the inside out.

"The Gospel-Centered Mom is a huge gulp of refreshing air for moms who are in the thick of raising kids. It takes your eyes off of your performance and places them on the one who performed perfectly for us." 
- Jessica Thompson, co-author of "Give Them Grace." 
Available on Amazon and Etsy!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Three Questions to Take Your Christmas from "Religious" to "Gospel-Centered"


"Everywhere I look it's the same story about the sweet manger scene."

This comment came from a reader who has the same question many of us do this time of year: How do we point our kids to the gospel at Christmastime? It goes beyond simply setting up a nativity scene on the mantle and singing good old fashioned hymns. Those are good things, but by themselves they paint an incomplete picture of the gospel. It's very easy to be religious at Christmastime. It's much harder to be gospel-centered.

There are books and videos and resources flying all around us about the "true meaning of Christmas." Some are great, some are confusing, and some are just plain unhelpful. A gospel-centered Christmas starts with a solid theological foundation. Simple, but solid. As you sift through the resources and seek to point your kids to the gospel, there are three questions that can help tie everything together. These are questions you can refer back to over and over all season long to keep the gospel clear and central for your kids. The answers are written with children in mind, but these simple truths are for all ages.

Three Questions to Point Your Kids to the Gospel during Christmas 

1. Who is Jesus? 

Jesus is God, but he is also God's Son. He is part of the trinity - one God in three persons. He was born on earth, but the Bible says he existed before that. In fact, Jesus has no beginning! When we think of Jesus we can think of all the things we know about God: He is holy, all powerful, and all knowing. Jesus even created the whole world. When Jesus came to earth he was still fully God, but he took on a human body so he could be like us. (John 1:1-3, Philippians 2:6-7)


2. Why did Jesus come?


When Adam sinned his sin covered everyone in the world. This made all of us God's enemies. Just like Adam covered us with his sin, we needed someone to cover us with perfect righteousness so we could be God's friends again. Jesus came so he could live a perfect life in our place and also take the punishment our sins deserved. (Romans 5:8, Romans 5:12)


3. What does Christmas mean?


Christmas is a time to tell God, "Thank you for coming!" We remember that Jesus came to earth by becoming a man and having a birthday, just like you and me. He came to bring us presents: The gifts of forgiveness and eternal life for anyone who believes in him. Christmas reminds us of Jesus' birth, but that's only the beginning of the story. We also remember how his life ended at the cross and where he is now. He is alive in heaven, preparing a place for his people to be with him someday forever. (Romans 6:23, John 14:2-3)





Wondering what to do about Santa? My husband and I talk Santa, FedEx, and Elf-on-a-Shelf.





"The Gospel-Centered Mom is a huge gulp of refreshing air for moms who are in the thick of raising kids. It takes your eyes off of your performance and places them on the one who performed perfectly for us." 
- Jessica Thompson, co-author of "Give Them Grace." 
Available on Amazon and Etsy!




Friday, December 8, 2017

Delivered


(This article originally appeared on gentleleading.com.)

I just have to laugh at the audacity of babies. They think they rule the universe. Recently I took my 12-month-old on an airplane. I held him up to the window, expecting him to be spellbound by the massive size of the airplane, the speed, the height…but he wasn’t. He slapped the window, gave a brazen squeal, and tried desperately to reach out and touch the wing. He would have lunged out of the window if he could have.

He has no idea of the dangers I deliver him from daily. That’s because babies fixate on what’s right in front of their faces. They fuss when we remove dangerous objects from their hands or deliver them from a harmful plunge down a flight of stairs.

I am often guilty of the same short-sightedness. Just like my son who wanted to lunge out of the airplane, I take deliverance for granted when I don’t stop to ponder what I’ve been delivered from. Deliverance means rescue. It means being removed from one path and placed on another. What path was I on? Why did I need rescuing? What dangers awaited me before God reached down and swooped me out of harm’s way? The answer is in 1 Thessalonians 1:10: “And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”

“Wrath” is not a word we like to think about – especially at Christmas time. But the most vivid display of God’s wrath began in a dusty manger. When the world looks into the manger they get a warm fuzzy feeling and a vague notion of world peace. But upon a closer look we see something totally different. We see the dreadful, holy wrath of God that required nothing less than the blood of his own Son to satisfy it. This baby shows us the gravity of what our sins deserve. He came to absorb every drop of wrath for his people so there would be no wrath left for us.

But what is wrath? From a human standpoint I might think of wrath as the feeling I get when I see my pile of clean laundry strewn across the backyard and used as a fort. But God’s wrath is not simply an angry reaction. It is an inseparable part of His character. It goes hand in hand with his holiness, love, and justice. We can’t give wrath a backseat simply because it is unpleasant. God’s attributes are so intertwined that we can’t diminish one without diminishing them all. Unlike my sinful human anger, God’s wrath is evidence of his holiness. Perfect holiness cannot tolerate sin. All sin must experience the wrath of God.

The most horrific thing any human being could experience is to stand before a holy God on the day of judgment and receive the full fury of his wrath for all of eternity. Our sin, even the smallest sinful thought, deserves nothing less. But the manger of wrath is also a manger of deliverance. For those who put their trust in Jesus, judgement day has already happened. God’s wrath came. It demanded justice and that’s exactly what it got. Jesus took it all. In Jesus I could no more face the wrath of God than Jesus could face it again for me. It’s over. Not because God got sentimental and decided to give me a free pass, but because the wrath I deserved was poured out on another.

I have to ask myself: What is there left to be afraid of?

Suddenly earthly cares loosen their ties on my heart. My messy house, my teething baby, and my quarreling toddlers are overshadowed by the peace of deliverance. I’ve been delivered from God by God. What else could possibly touch me? “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-29)


What is weighing your heart down this holiday season? Don’t settle for the warm fuzzy peace that lasts for a moment and then is gone. Eternal peace comes from knowing we are right with God. Look deep into the manger. See the baby who is a consuming fire – a fire that will punish for all of eternity or protect for all of eternity. For God’s people, what started in the manger ended at the cross. And now our eternal deliverance from wrath is our daily deliverance from fear, doubt, and despair. It’s a peace that lasts long after the Christmas decorations come down. It’s a peace that lasts forever.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

VIDEO: Dave and Sara Wallace Tackle Santa (Not literally. But kind of.)


My husband Dave joins me (and distracts me) as we talk about how we handle Santa every year. To read the original article that prompted this discussion, check out What to Do About Santa




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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Today's Pain, Tomorrow's Joy



“So…does it hurt?”

My friend’s eyes were fixed on me as I rocked my newborn in the church lobby. I could see a mixture of excitement and dread on her face. Her hands were clasped over her bulging, eight-month tummy. We had been through every step of our first pregnancies together, but I had made it to the finish line first. And now she wanted to know: What was beyond that mysterious curtain? What did childbirth feel like?

“Well,” I began. I looked down at my baby’s creamy cheeks and wispy angel eyelashes. Did it hurt? When I looked at him I couldn’t remember. I looked up at the ceiling. “Well,” I began again. Visions of my hospital room flashed through my mind. The pain, the pressure, the confusion, the intensity. How do you even begin to explain the pain of childbirth?

The simple answer is, yes. Childbirth hurts. But women who have been through it know it’s more complicated than that. It’s a complicated pain.

When I talk to expectant moms about childbirth I compare the pain to what it’s not like. It’s not like breaking your leg. It’s not like burning your hand. It’s not destructive pain. It has limitations and it has a purpose. Unlike breaking a bone, the pain of childbirth produces something new and beautiful. So, while childbirth is characterized by pain, the end goal of the pain changes the way we experience it.  

Our lives on this earth are also characterized by pain. Every time we see the news we feel the weight of this world’s suffering. But, just as in childbirth, a Christian’s pain has an end and a purpose. Our pain is mixed with hope because it is bound to this world only. It has limitations, sovereignly put in place by our creator. Our pain is quickly coming to an end and there is indescribable joy waiting for us on the other side of it. But for now, we groan.   

“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.” (Romans 8:21-24)

We groan under illness, under disciplining our children, and under our hurting brothers and sisters around the world. We groan under temptation and the consequences of sin. We groan under heartbreak and loss.  

But one day our groaning will be over. One day we will see our savior face to face. He will wipe away every tear. We will stand before him, clothed in the radiant purity of his own righteous robes, and hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:23)

Each of the five times I was in labor I remember at some point having the same thought: "Is there any other way through this?" In the most intense moments I thought I would not survive. I remember turning to my husband and saying, "I don't want to do this. I changed my mind." He laughed nervously and said, "Um...I think it's a little late for that." 

There is no other way through this life than through the suffering God has planned for us. But if we forget to look past the suffering to our final reward, we will lose strength. Corrie ten Boom, after surviving a concentration camp during World War II, used to carry around a little square of satin. On one side was a jumble of colored threads. On the other side was a beautifully embroidered gold crown. She would hold it and recite by heart:

"My life is but a weaving betwixt the Lord and me,
I do not choose the color - he worketh steadily. 
Oftentimes he weaveth sorrow and I in foolish pride,
Forget he sees the upper and I the underside." 

God has guaranteed that we will experience suffering in this life. But he has also promised that one day it will be over. One day we will be in our true home. There will be no death there. No pain, no suffering. No sleepless nights, no fatigue. No fears will tug at your heart. No corridors of anxiety will beckon your mind to follow. You will be safe in the arms of your creator forever. One of my favorite hymns shows how this perspective changes the way we experience suffering: 

"Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in his wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of his glory and grace."

We can make it through because we know what is waiting for us. When I look into the faces of my babies I can’t remember the pain it took to get them into this world. Whatever pain you are facing today, look at your savior. See your future hope. One day your pain will be gone. And when it’s gone, it will be gone forever.


“You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:20-22)



"The Gospel-Centered Mom is the single best parenting book I've read since becoming a mom." - Amy T.
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