How to Choose Big Story Books for Little Hearts (Part 1)

When I was a children’s worker in a Chinese church in Cebu, I started searching and collecting books for children that were helpful to my ministry. What I found though was a shortage of supply of good resources. So I had to either bring in materials from abroad or come up with my own materials. But not everyone is equipped to come up with lessons. This is why I am always on the look out for good Christian resources for children. It is actually been one of my advocacies.

About ten years ago, these materials were very few in number. And only one or two were available locally. Sure, there are many children’s books in Christian bookstores. But I am not comfortable in recommending most of them. And why is that, you may wonder? They aren’t much different than other children’s books that teach good manners and right conduct, Joy Berry books do those very well. If there isn’t anything that sets them apart from all the other books in the market, what makes them Christian in the first place? To put it simply, these books are usually devoid of the One Big Story that the Bible always talks about.

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One Big Story

What is this One Big Story that I keep referring to? A big term that theologians like to use to refer to this idea is Biblical Theology. And I always say, one of the greatest factors in the ability to choose the right books for instructing children in the faith boils down to having a good understanding of the Bible’s One Big Story. So I will take the time to summarize and explain plainly the four distinct parts:

Creation

Before all things ever came to be, God is there. God created the word and everything in it for His own good pleasure and His own glory, including man. The first two chapters of Genesis talk about how God made the world good:

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. (Genesis 1:31a, ESV)

Fall

God created man perfect and righteous, but man disobeyed God’s command.  Sin entered the world through our first parents, Adam and Eve (Genesis 3). Sin ruined God’s world. And ever since, man always rebelled against God and His Word, making themselves their own little gods. Man is lost without God. But God’s promised to send a Savior,

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. (Genesis 3:15, ESV)

Redemption

Even before the foundation of the world, God had already planned to save His people from their lostness. God became man. Through the perfect life, atoning death, and miraculous resurrection of Jesus, God’s own Son, He secured salvation for His people. Jesus broke the chains of sin.

She [Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21, ESV)

Jesus paid for man’s sin, and when we believe in what He has done in our stead, His perfect righteousness is accounted to us. When we and our children put our faith in Jesus, we are given new birth and new hearts to joyfully follow God’s commands.

Consummation

One day, God will restore all things to His original design—perfect and sinless. God is making all things new. 

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:3-5a, ESV)

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Christ the Center

All Scripture is about God’s redemptive plan. And what binds all of these four aspects of the One Big Story together is it centers around the person and work of Jesus. All stories point to or look back to Jesus and what He has done. In fact, whenever we miss the important fact that Jesus is the main character of all the stories in the Bible, we miss the One Big Story.

If we forget about the One Big Story, we will resort to moralistic lessons that aren’t much different than all the other stories out there. What is more, when we forget the One Big Story, we will altogether miss what or who the Bible is really all about, Jesus.

Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doin. It’s about God and what he has done. Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but (as you’ll soon find out) most of te people in the Bible aren’t heroes at all. They make some big mistakes(sometimes on purpose), they get afraid and run away. At times, they’re downright mean. No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne–everything–to rescues the ones he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life! You see, the best thing about this Story is–it’s true. There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling on Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them. It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in the puzzle–the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture. (Sally Lloyd-Jones, Jesus Story Book Bible)

We want our efforts to teaching, training and discipling our children to not go to waste. And whenever we offer them alternatives and half-truths—no matter how flashy and attractive they seem to be—without addressing their heart’s truest and direst need, we would have failed our primary role of passing on the faith to the next generation.

The gospel is the ultimate story that shows victory coming out of defeat, strength coming out of weakness, life coming out of death, rescue from abandonment. And because it is a true story, it gives us hope because we know life is really like that. (Timothy Keller)

Never assume the Gospel. Never tired of telling your children the One Big Story. Never tire of telling them about the Gospel of Jesus. Our children need to hear it daily, and so do we.

 

To be continued

How to Prepare Children For Marriage or Singlehood

The month of February has caused a lot of people to think about their own love lives or the lack of it. For some, it is a celebration of mutual love. For others, it is a constant reminder of their loneliness and lack of romantic excitement.

I have been reading through Josh Mulvilhill’s Preparing Children for Marriage: How to Teach God’s Good Design for Marriage, Sex, Purity, and Dating. And God has been using this book to provide new insights on how to raise covenant children in the area of marriage, etc. It also made me realize that while it is important to teach children about the possibility of marriage, it is equally important to train them for the possibility of singleness as well. Of course, I would want my children to get married someday. Even my five-year old told me she wanted to get married someday. But marriage is God’s gift to some people, and it is the ultimate picture of Jesus and His Bride, the church.

Marriage between a man and a woman is meant to reflect the relationship between Christ and the church. It is a living example of Jesus’ love for the church and of the church’s submission to Jesus. How Jesus loved the church is how a husband is to love his wife. How the church follows Jesus is how a wife is to follow her husband. Every marriage is a picture that tells the world about Jesus’ sacrificial love for us. Marriage points to a greater reality—it’s a living, breathing reminder of Calvary.

God never promised anywhere in the Bible that all Christians will find a life partner. Anyone teaching that purports this claim should be rejected. It is not only un-Biblical, it is utterly dangerous to be dispensing unrealistic hopes.

People want to be loved and desired by others. But we are bound to be disappointed when we make marriage the be-all and end-all of things. Instead of longing for marriage and avoiding singlehood, we should be teaching our children to be satisfied in Jesus. Because anything that replaces Christ as the supreme center in our life is an idol. If love becomes our idol, a difficult marriage can devastate us. If  acceptance becomes our idol, the prospect of singlehood can make us feel rejected. I love how Dr. Mulvihill expresses God’s design for singleness in his book,

Singleness is the ultimate state for every believer. Because it is your future state, you should seek to understand and appreciate it. If God calls your child to a life of singleness, your child should embrace that life with contentment. As parents, we ought to avoid expressing disappointment if this is the path that God has for our children. Instead, let us support our children in this self-sacrificing endeavor.

That is a good way to put things into perspective, isn’t it? But the bottomline is this, We should be teaching our children to find their ultimate joy and supreme satisfaction in Jesus. 

[T]he kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:45-46)

If Jesus is our joy, whether we marry or remain single for the rest of our lives, we will find true contentment. I certainly hope my children  grow up to be contented Christians as their understanding of the Gospel grows each day. Even I long for the very same thing.

In a word a contented Christian, being sweetly captivated under the authority of the Word, desires to be wholly at God’s disposal and is willing to live in that sphere and climate where God has set him. (Thomas Watson)

Commit to Memory, Commit to Heart

The second day of The Classical Preschool calls for memorization. And that is what we tried to do today. My tot grabbed another Curious George book about fishing right after breakfast, and I took the opportunity to teach him a nursery rhyme, “12345 Once I Caught A Fish Alive” which also teaches numbers.

I realized that I have to write down some goals for our homeschooling, and knowing his numbers, shapes and alphabets by the time he reaches three years old is definitely included. I have made a mistake of not being intentional about teaching preliteracy skills with my firstborn. I am not  going that same route again. We’re not doing any writing yet, but we’re committing these things to memory.

A big bulk of Classical Education composes of memorization during the Pre-Grammar and Grammar stages. Dorothy Sayers describes this life stage as Parrot, where children mimic and follow what has been taught to them,

The Poll-Parrot stage is the one in which learning by heart is easy and, on the whole, pleasurable; whereas reasoning is difficult and, on the whole, little relished. At this age, one readily memorizes the shapes and appearances of things; one likes to recite the number-plates of cars; one rejoices in the chanting of rhymes and the rumble and thunder of unintelligible polysyllables; one enjoys the mere accumulation of things.

The Reformed tradition blends perfectly well with Classical Education as it also emphasizes on catechizing tender hearts early on. Although my two-year old may not yet “parrot” all that I teach him, I am hoping repetition and lessons through song would aid memorization at this stage.

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As a Christian parent, my aim for child-rearing is not only to help my kids accumulate academic skills; my primary role is to make them disciples of Jesus and own their baptism one day. One of the ways to do this is to give them the language of faith through catechesis. Anthony Hoekema gives the definition and purpose of this instruction,

Catechesis is the ecclesiastical training of the children of the covenant, aimed at preparing them for profession of faith, active church membership, and kingdom usefulness. In the light of this definition, the purpose of catechesis will be to teach the covenant child such material as he needs to know in order to make an intelligent profession of faith within the church to which he belongs, to be a well-informed member of that church, to be a ready witness to the teaching of the church, and to live a full-orbed Christian life in accordance with the principles taught by his church.

While modern education seeks to put the child in the center of all learning, Classical Christian Education sees that God is the center of all learning. It recognizes that all truth is God’s truth, and that one cannot fully distinguish truth and error without understanding God’s truth as revealed in the Bible. Everything should then be examined through the lenses of Scripture, as it relates to God and His revelation. Children need not be shielded from the plethora of opposing philosophies and harsh realities of life. Rather, they need to be grounded firmly on the Word of God, which will then arm them with the grid whereby they can sift through different ideas that will come their way.

Catechetical instruction at home and at church, along with regular Family Worship, aids in this spiritual nurture.