As we celebrate Independence Day in America, I'm once again reminded of how blessed we are. American parents live freely to teach their children the values that matter to them in peace. As a parent, I want my children to love studying the bible.
Many adults love studying the bible's laws, principles, prophecy, and stories. I want my children to grow up loving these things, too. But how do you teach the bible to very young children, in a meaningful way?
Not all bible passages are created equal. Long genealogies teach us that historical portions of Scripture really do provide real-life, historical accounts of events that actually happened. But a 4 year old and 2 year old couldn't really care less about that. Why should they?
And some accounts of events aren't rated "G." In fact, some aren't even close. The bible narrative contains violence, sex, and any number of things that would make a marvelous Harlequin novel apart from the whole "Jesus" thing.
For five years, I've wrestled with the search for some way of organizing our family's time in the bible so that it's meaningful. So that I don't leave anything important out. Do you face a similar struggle with young children?
So, what's the problem?
In America, we have access to literally thousands of "bibles" written for children. Why not just pick one? They have stunning pictures of giant whales, huge boats, and everything necessary to stir a kid's imagination. What's the big deal?
Every book, devotional, plan, and curriculum I've seen over the last 5 years has at least one of three problems:
1. It treats the Bible like a magical fairy-tale storybook.
"Oh, look! Isn't that a big boat! Let's go watch Barney now." My children have many books on the shelf. Everything from "Green Eggs and Ham" and "Hop on Pop" to "The Story of Jesus." What's the difference between these 3 children's books, in the mind of a child? "Jesus" is just another character, like "Clifford" or "Big Bird."
Most children's devotionals and bibles turn God's rescue plan into a fairy tale. They eliminate the seriousness of the endeavor of bible study. I want my children to enjoy bible study, but not at the expense of knowing the true character of God. The bible is not a book of children's stories.
Don't think that has an impact? I regularly visit with folks on a college campus that believe the bible is just a collection of fairy tales. Many of those folks grew up in Christian homes, where their parents believe the bible is the Word of God. What happened?
2. It leaves out essential parts of the Bible narrative.
Parts of the bible are very graphic for young children. I understand that. But certain parts are essential. You can't gloss over creation. You can't skip the Exodus, or the ten commandments.
Why not? Well, the bible says that the law is our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. If bringing them to Christ is my goal, how can I skip the tutor God has given us so we can get to the next exciting bible drama?
3. It focuses on the character of the children reading it, instead of getting to know its Author.
I want my children to live Godly lives. No question about that. But what's the point of them doing "the right thing," if they never know Jesus? They'll follow all these "rules," look like perfect little Christians, and lack the essential ingredient they need from bible study. They'll grow up knowing how to act like "Christians," but they won't know Jesus at all.
Sure, they'll know about this Jesus, that lived long ago. How He was an amazing teacher that taught the Golden Rule, and to "be kind" and "love one another." But so did a lot of other religious leaders, right?
I talk to these folks all the time, too. I want to do everything in my power to keep my sons from becoming one of these. Why? Because that is a wide path that leads to destruction.
A Singular Focus
The bible study I do with my children must focus on one thing: Who Jesus is. In creation, in the law, in the accounts of "exciting" events, in the sermons, in the crucifixion, in the resurrection, and in the events that followed. Right on through who Jesus is today.
"Jesus answered and said to him, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.'"John 3:3
Not only can you not enter Heaven apart from being born again - you cannot even see the kingdom of God.
And my boys won't be born again by developing Godly character. They won't be born again by interesting stories about a giant fish, or lion's dens, or enormous boats filled with cute, colorful animated animals.
Only by knowing Jesus will my kids be born again. And when they see Him, they'll be like Him. That's just a bonus.
"And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.”Jesus, in John 12:32
When Jesus is lifted up above all the things this world wants to teach my children, He will draw them to Himself.
So as I study with my kids, I ask 2 simple questions:
Who is God?
Who is Jesus?
Godly character occurs supernaturally when God gives you a new heart. Until then, I'm trying to put lipstick on a pig when I teach my kids to do good things. Does that mean I don't teach them to make wise choices? Of course not.
But our bible study is the place to provide context. Why do we make good choices? Let's get to know Jesus. The more you know Jesus, the more everything else comes into focus - supernaturally. The more you know Jesus, the more you'll develop Godly character - supernaturally.
And that's no fairy tale.