Be Who You Are: Teaching Kids About Gender

Guest Post by Jared Kennedy

My favorite scene in Toy Story takes place at the Dinoco Station. Woody and Buzz fight, and their squabble sends them falling out of the minivan onto the concrete. The argument goes on for a moment when, suddenly, Woody stops. He looks up and watches in horror as Andy and his mom drive away. Woody chases after the car for a few steps. “Doesn’t he realize I’m not there?” he shouts, “I’m lost. Oh, I’m a lost toy!” Woody experiences deep anguish, because he knows who he is.

You see, the toys in the world of Disney and Pixar’s Toy Story movies want nothing more than to bring joy to their owners. They want to love and be loved by their kid. After all, Woody’s kid Andy wrote his name in permanent marker under his shoe. Toys like Woody live for playtime. They revel in it. It’s what they’re created for. But, for a toy like Woody, being lost or replaced is your greatest fear. The older and more worn out a toy gets, the more danger there is of being donated, discarded and sent to a trash heap, or just stored in the attic forgotten. And getting left behind at a gas station is close to the worst that can happen.

Buzz Lightyear’s reaction fascinates me in this scene. He doesn’t understand the importance of catching up with Andy. He doesn't understand the great tragedy of being lost. Buzz thinks he’s a real spaceman having an adventure on an uncharted planet; he doesn’t know he’s a toy. What Buzz can’t see is that he’s more lost than he knows.

We are just like the toys in those movies. They’re lost without Andy, and we’re lost without God. God made us as his children—to love and be loved by him. We're his cherished sons and daughters. God made us his representatives. We bear his name. It's etched on our very souls. If we try to take account of our lives without considering the One for whom we were made or how he made us, we’re as delusional as Buzz.

So, how did God make us? Right at the beginning, God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…male and female" (Gen. 1:26-27). These verses show us that the biological differences between men and women are a fundamental part of God’s design—a part of who we are and a part of the essence of God’s image. God made us to live in community with one another so we can image forth the kind of relational life the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have eternally shared. While God made each person to represent him in some unique way, we need both women and men
-with their complimentary differences-to get a complete picture of God’s loving character.

Let’s take it one step further. God didn’t just create men and women to be together, reflecting his glory. He also created men and women to work together, accomplishing his purposes. Just like the cowboy and the (eventually self-aware) spaceman must work together to get back to Andy, men and women must work together to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). As Hannah Anderson and Wendy Alsup observe:

By creating them as male and female, God invested their bodies with strengths and weaknesses that would bind them together in mutual dependence as they fulfilled the Creation Mandate. The woman’s body would allow her to cultivate new image bearers, but this would also make her more vulnerable. The man’s body would be unable to bear life, but his physical strength would allow him to protect and provide... The differences between them were not an end in themselves… They were the means by which they would together cultivate the good bounty of the earth and their own bodies. Together they would rule and reign over the new creation as King and Queen.

God’s in the business of gifting his children so they can use those gifts for his glory through loving and serving others. Our biological sex is one of the first of these gifts.

For young men, this means parents should prepare them to live as servant-leaders—to take initiative, work to cultivate good, and fight to protect what’s true:

1.     Take Initiative. Think about how God commissioned Adam—before the Fall—to live as a servant-leader. God sent Adam to name all the beasts (Gen. 2:19-20). He names Adam as head and representative of the human family (Rom. 5:15; 1 Cor. 15:22). We see this confirmed in the order of creation (Gen. 2:7; 1 Tim. 2:13). But ultimately Adam failed (Gen. 3:6). Only Christ truly shows what it means to lovingly serve as head by humbly considering others as greater than himself (Phil. 2:3-8).

If we’re going to raise young men to serve as faithful covenant heads of families and churches, we must teach them to serve sacrificially. When a cup spills at the dinner table, boys shouldn’t wait for mom (or his sisters) to grab a paper towel. Teach boys to jump up and move toward the problem with eager humility (Prov. 3:27). This is important. We must show young men that taking initiative doesn’t require always being in charge. Even when they enter a headship role as husbands or fathers, leadership should look like Spirit-empowered service (Eph. 5:23; John 13).

2.     Work for Good. A man’s physical strength allows him to provide for his family. He was created with an orientation toward work. Genesis tells us the Lord formed Adam from the ground (2:7), and then he placed the man in the garden “to work [the ground] and take care of it” (2:15). If a husband or father refuses to work and provide for his family, this is tantamount to denying the faith (1 Thess. 3:10; 1 Tim. 5:8). A lazy man fails to steward the strong body God gave him for the others in his care (Prov. 12:24). He fails to conform his life to Christ, who sacrificed his own body for our sakes.

Teach sons to cultivate their bodies, minds, and relationships—not for selfish gain, but for the sake of God and others.

If a young man doesn’t love God, he’ll work with the wrong goals in mind (Gen. 4:19-24; 11:1-9). We can teach young men to get a job and start investing early—not so they’ll be millionaires by forty but instead to learn the character and skill necessary to provide for a family. Boys need dads and other older men to model service in church and community. They need to see men working with humility for the sake of justice and mercy (Micah 6:8).

3.     Fight to Protect. Finally, our goal should be to raise young men with self-control, who will use their physical and emotional strength to protect others. Some men fail to control their strong emotions and become foolish hotheads (Prov. 14:16-17). Others take it to the next level, using their physical strength for violence and abuse (Gen. 4:1-16). Adam neglected his strength. He should have spoken up to protect his wife from the serpent’s lies (Gen. 3:6). But in Adam’s failure, we receive the promise of one who would finally fight and crush Satan (Gen. 3:14-15; 1 Cor. 15:25).

We have an opportunity to participate in Christ’s victory when we fight for what is good and true (Rom. 16:19). Throughout the Scripture, we’re given examples of men who use their strength to protect others. Abraham went to war to save Lot. David fought again and again to save Israel. Not all our sons will learn to wrestle or do martial arts, but they can all learn to speak up and fight for what is good.

Just as we prepare young men to be servant leaders, we should call young women to live in conformity with Christ’s character as influential helpers and nurturers:

1.     Give Help and Influence. When God made the woman for Adam as his wife, he created “a helper suitable for him,” because it wasn’t good for the man to be alone (Gen. 2:18). A few verses later, we see the woman who was “taken from Adam” (Gen. 2:22). This is parallel to the man who was taken from the ground and called to work it (Gen 2:7). In the context of marriage, the woman’s orientation is toward her husband—to give him her help and influence.

This is a unique way women image forth God’s character as help and salvation for his people (Ps. 33:20, Ps. 70:5; Ex. 18:4). It should inspire every woman and humble every prideful man to see that every major era of biblical history begins with a woman. (Eve—Gen. 3; Miriam and Pharaoh’s daughter—Ex. 2; Hannah—1 Sam. 1; Mary and Elizabeth—Luke 1). Notice that Pharaoh’s daughter didn’t give birth to Moses, but through him she brought deliverance to the Hebrew people. Her compassion gave her saving influence (Ex. 2:6).

The woman was made as co-ruler with the man (Gen. 1:26); there’s shared authority in that statement. But often
times influence accomplishes more than authority ever could—both for good and evil (Prov. 8-9; 31:10-31). Eve didn’t need to flex her muscles or get political to influence Adam to eat the fruit. She simply gave it to him. Her actions had destructive power. Teach your daughters their actions and words have influence (1 Tim. 2:9-10; 1 Pet. 3:1-5). Then teach them to ask, “Is what I do and say a help or a hindrance to others? Do I think about how I can help and serve, or do I only consider how I want to be served?”

2.     Nurture and Empower Others. After the Fall, God named the woman Eve, mother of all the living (Gen. 3:20). This was a grace. The man and woman received the wages for sin but not yet fully; the woman’s body could still give life. This is a great gift. A woman’s body is designed to incubate and sustain a baby’s life from conception to birth. Her milk alone can sustain her newborn for the first part of the baby’s life.

Not every woman will become a wife or mother,
but every one of our daughters can provide life-giving care for others. Paul instructs every woman in the church to develop others (Titus 2:3-5). We see examples of this in Priscilla’s ministry to Apollos (Acts 18:26—her name is listed first before her husband!), in Philip’s prophet daughters (Acts 21:8), and in Timothy’s grandmother Lois (2 Tim. 1:5). Such women model what it means to nurture and empower others in the faith.

I hope I’ve been abundantly clear. Young men and women don’t need to “be more of a man” or “more of a woman.” Like Buzz Lightyear, they simply need to know who they are—who they’ve been created to be. Then, we can teach them to live a Christian life in accordance with this identity. Manhood and womanhood are not status levels to be achieved. Our gender flows from our biology. It’s a gift to receive and steward in love and service to others. As both sexes grow in maturity and transform into Christ’s likeness, the integration of their body and soul will ensure they are more fully formed as men and women.

Teaching Children the Meaning of Easter

Every child knows the symbols of Easter: eggs, bunnies, flowers, and of course, candy. Most of these popular symbols point to the concept of new life (with candy representing only frenetic, sugar-crazed life).

And while candy is often at the forefront of kids' minds, it's the new life of Jesus's resurrection that stands behind the symbols as the ultimate reality, the true meaning of Easter.

But how do we teach our children the meaning of Jesus's resurrection? Yes, it's new life, but the Bible teaches that it's so much more. The meaning of the empty tomb is anything but empty.

I recently read a copy of Carl Laferton's 2016 book for young children: The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross. It's short (you could read it to your preschoolers in less than 10 minutes), but contains a hit-the-high-spots tour of the entire Bible. Commenting on the book, Al Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says: "Laferton has provided us with one of the best little treatments of biblical theology available for parents to read to their children. The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross not only teaches children stories in the Bible, but the story of the Bible."

And this story line of Scripture provides the ideal setting for displaying the many, shining facets of the resurrection. In his book, Lafterton writes:

"Suddenly Jesus was—alive! Suddenly, his friends weren't sad—now they were so, so happy! God had brought Jesus back to life so that he could live in God's wonderful place for ever! And Jesus has sent everyone an invitation to come and live with him there too!"

There are many ways to teach the younger generation about the meaning of Easter. The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross is one of the best.

If you'd like to watch Carl Laferton explain the resurrection in one minute, be sure to check out this video.

"If you live under my roof, . . ." The Folly of Parental Authority

Kids are question-machines.

  • "Why can't I go to Sam's house after school this afternoon?"
  • "Why won't you let me go to that movie with my friends?"
  • "What's wrong with what I want?"
  • "Why do we all have to eat at this restaurant?"

And all good parents instinctively know the right answer: "Because I said so."

At one level, this response is correct. The Bible reminds children that they should obey their parents, as the right thing to do before the Lord (Ephesians 6:1f).

However, if we only give regulations without rationale, then our children may obey as long as we're around. We'll condition robotic responses in children who may lack the internal resources to meet the ever-changing demands of adulthood.

Thankfully, the Bible says more to children than "You just need to obey." The first nine chapters of the book of Proverbs overflow with reasons why children should obey the Lord and walk in His wisdom. Chapters 10-31 contain what we typically think of as "proverbs"—short and memorable sayings, pearls of wisdom.

Yet instead of Proverbs immediately beginning to teach wisdom itself, the opening nine chapters primarily feature incentives for right and wise living. In these chapters you'll find (a) logical reasons for pursuing wisdom, (b) promised blessings for gaining wisdom, and (c) terrifyingly-true-to-life warnings about consequences for refusing wisdom. (E.g., for reasons: see 1:08; 2:1; 3:1; etc.; for blessings: see 1:9; 2:10-11; 3:13-14; etc.; for warnings: see 1:19; 2:22; 3:32-35; etc.)

Wise teaching shouldn't just present statements of truth, but pull back the curtain on why it's important. Wise parenting doesn't just require, it reasons. It doesn't just expect, but also explains.

In this way, we as parents are less like instructors, and more like guides, personally leading the next generation through the twists and turns of life that we ourselves attempt to navigate. We get to invite our children into the inner workings of righteous and wise living. So that one day, when the situation and specifics are different, wisdom may still be sought and found and followed.

If you'd like to learn more, use a good Study Bible to read through Proverbs 1-9. As you read, notice how often Solomon reasons with you, the reader. How does our parenting compare with this counter-balance to "because I said so"?

Christmas Surprises

“Oh, . . . a new pair of socks . . . thanks, mom and dad.”

kid-disappointed-christmas_0.jpg

This kind of Christmas surprise sounds quite different than: “A new bike!? No way! Thank you!” Two gifts, two kinds of surprises. But both gifts are unexpected and both express the love of the parents.

Christmas surprises are nothing new. They go back to the very beginnings of this season. The story of Jesus’s birth, as described in the Gospel of Luke, bristles with the unexpected—each surprise showcasing the love of the Father.

Surprisingly Strong

The birth of Jesus entailed myriads of details working together. The Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, issued a census requiring Joseph and Mary to visit Bethlehem (Joseph’s ancestral home and the town prophesied by Micah to be the birthplace of the Messiah). And so, Joseph and Mary had already arrived in Bethlehem at the time when Mary was ready to give birth.

So many details, and God was in control of them all. Without effort, he guided the decision-making of a pagan emperor, who lived 2,100 miles from Bethlehem. Without difficulty, he moved the prophet Micah to foretell the location where his Son would be born—over 7 centuries later.

From all appearances to the average Roman citizen, it looked like Caesar ruled the world. What he wanted, happened—through the more than 1 million square miles of his empire. Yet surprisingly, the king was a pawn—a piece moved by the one true God to advance his loving plan of redemption.

And still today, nothing is too hard for the Lord. No matter how hard hearted your family member may be; regardless of how independently minded they seem; irrespective of how things appear—God is not challenged by their sin. So, pray for God to work—even in surprising ways—to guide and change those you love. His love knows no weakness.

Surprisingly Broad

Shepherds were considered lowlifes in that time. Although historically a noble profession in Israel (think King David the former shepherd boy), by Jesus’s day shepherds had become blacklisted. Ancient Jewish writings even ranked them among gamblers, tax collectors, and dishonest money-lenders.

Yet God announced the birth of his Son—not to priests at the nearby Temple, not to civic leaders in Jerusalem, and not even to common townsfolk in Bethlehem. Instead, in what must have been an unexpected move, God went outside acceptable social circles; he delivered the good news for the joy of “all the peoples” to the marginalized, to the shunned, to shepherds.

And our Christmas seasons are still populated with “shepherds.” Not the elementary-aged ones, wearing oversized bathrobes. But whether at church or at family gatherings, we will meet men and women who very much feel like outsiders. Men and women to whom we may surprisingly, like the angels, also bring the wide-reaching message of God’s love, the good news of Jesus Christ.

Surprisingly Low

At this time of year, retail stores do their best to attract shoppers. They put signs outside which tell of fabulous deals inside. That’s how signs work—they’re pointers to the real thing. And in Luke 2, the shepherds are also given a sign—one which points to the Messiah. The sign? “You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12, ESV). What a relief to the marginalized shepherds. Their promised King had come in lowliness: wrapped in common attire and nestled in an uncommon bed.

And if the cloths and manger—like signs—pointed to the Promised One, the Messiah himself pointed to the Father (John 1:18). If you want to see what the Father is like, you need only look at Christ. Like Father, like Son. And it’s not just that you can see the Father in the mighty miracles of Jesus. Anything and everything the Son does reflect the Father. So, when we see Jesus in humble, lowly, approachable love—wrapped up and in a manger—we see nothing less than the humble heart of God.

During holiday times with friends and family, do we approach conversations needing to validate the reputations of ourselves or our children? Do we feel compelled to always be right? Are we willing to relinquish the power over our Christmas schedules and agendas? Our Lord and Master came—not as the Jews of his day anticipated, wielding his power and prerogatives. This approach would have meant judgment. Instead, our King came in lowliness, bringing our salvation.

May our Christmas season be freshly full of the surprising love and grace of Christ.

Get Real with Your Kids

“Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children. Now I have six children and no theories.”

This quip supposedly comes from 17th century author John Wilmot, but most any parent could echo its sentiment. Parenting is complicated. Every child is made in the image of God, unique, and multi-faceted. The complexity grows as each additional child enters the family.  And complications multiply as the relationship between each child and every other family member also requires attention. No wonder parenting is one of the most demanding pursuits on the planet.

In the face of the undeniable challenges that parenting presents, God's Word guides us through the thicket of complexity. Surprisingly brief, there are less than a dozen passages in Scripture that directly address how a parent should rear a child. One of these is Deuteronomy 6:20-25.

 “When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the LORD our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh's slaves in Egypt. And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the LORD showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. And the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us.’

Did you notice anything unexpected in the parent's reply to the son's question? The child asks about the meaning of God's commands. In reply, the parent recounts a story. If one of my kids asked me about why he could or couldn't do something in our house, I might give several kinds of answers. I might provide pros and cons of a particular course of action, explain how it's unloving or unbiblical, or just drop back and punt: "Because I said so."

Yet in this passage God reminds us that the meaning for rules is found in a story, a narrative story line, a reality in which we live. In other words, the simplicity in parenting complexity is this: we must help our children live in reality.

Reality comes in all shapes and sizes. We want our children to be aware of the realities of life on planet earth. Often this happens gradually. Toddlers need to be reminded about simple realities like: "If you come close to the stove, you might get burned." Or "If you play near the top of the stairs, you might fall." While teenagers will need to live in the grittier realities (among others) that foolish choices about friends, drugs, drinking, and sex will likely lead them into great harm.

But children of all ages also need to be reminded of the realities of God. There is a God. He made everything, including them. We all live in a good, but fallen world. This Creator sent His Son into the world to live and die in the place of sinners who turn from sin and trust in Him. And one day God will set everything right once more.

All these (and much more!) are realities which actually exist. They provide the often-unseen contours and substance of our existence. This is God's universe, and we are living in it. So we would do well to know what He and His world are like, lest we run at cross purposes to reality itself. As pastor and author Eugene Peterson has written (quoting H. H. Farmer), "If you go against the grain of the universe, you get splinters.”

And so our straightforward mission as parents is to one day deploy our children into the world, children who are aware and ready to live in the realities of God and the world He has created. Help your children live in reality. For my wife and me, this aim has clarified our parenting—not straightening the twists and turns of the path, but providing a north star to guide our steps.

Giving Out Samples

Periodically my family shops at one of those members-only, bulk-packaging retail stores—usually when we need another 12-pack of toothpaste or five-gallon tub of peanut butter.

As satisfying as it is to load up on a year's supply of shaving cream, my kids enjoy the experience for an entirely different reason.  Samples.

Every few aisles, dozens of mini-morsels are free for the taking. But these retailers aren't concerned to fill your stomach; they want to fill your cart. That's the way samples work: you taste, you like, you come back for more.

And in some way, that's what I want to accomplish through The Radical Book for Kids. It's over 250 pages of full-color, kid-friendly, gospel-centered, Bible-based, heart-focused samples for kids, ages 8 and up.

It is my hope that middle schoolers and young teens (and older) are going to read about the spiritual disciplines, or about the names of God, or biblical wisdom, or union with Christ, or about men and women who gave their lives for the Lord—and then, having tasted, will one day come back for more as they explore more deeply and widely the riches of God's truth.

I want to give a guided tour down the hallways of our faith. Walking the corridors of Scripture, theology, church history, and Christian living, I want to throw open doors of rooms to be explored later.

I want to to scatter a packet of assorted seeds across the minds and hearts and imaginations of the next generation, which in God's time and by his Spirit will take root, sprout, and bear much fruit.

I want to give out samples. And so, it seems fitting to include a sample here. Here's a preview of a couple pages from The Radical Book for Kids. It will release on October 24. You can also learn more here.

February Shelf Life

It'll be no surprise to those who know me: I like books.

At any given time, I'm probably reading through 3-6 different books (although it may take me 3-6 months to finish them!). And "different" is a good word to use, because a fairly wide variety of genres winds up on my reading list: books about theology, biography, Christian living, Bible study, pastoring, history, fiction, sports, writing, mysteries, sociology, etc. I like books.

Here's a few books that I've read recently and recommend for your growth or enjoyment (or both).

Battling Unbelief by John Piper

This 155-page book is an excerpt of chapters from Piper's larger work, Future Grace. Both books focus on how to fight sin by embracing God's promises by faith. The subtitle of the book is, "Defeating Sin with Superior Pleasure." The back cover describes it this way, "Delighting in the bounty of God's glorious gospel promises will free us for a less sin-encumbered life, to the glory of Christ. . . . Pastor John Piper shows us how to sever the clinging roots of sin that ensnare us, including anxiety, pride, shame, impatience, covetousness, bitterness, despondency, and lust." Here's a sample from the final chapter:

As I pray for my faith to be satisfied with God's life and peace, the sword of the Spirit carves the sugar coating off the poison of lust. I see it for what it is. And by the grace of God its alluring power is broken.

If you want to grow in how to live as a Christian--trusting Christ and fighting sin--then this book is the place to start. With only 8 chapters, you can read this through with a friend over four-weeks (two chapters to discuss per week). You won't regret it.

Side by Side by Ed Welch

Here's another short book (163 pages) that deserves to be read by every follower of Christ. It's the best, most readable introduction for how to relate to other people in truly helpful ways. The full title of the book summarizes it's message: Side by Side--Walking With Others in Wisdom and Love. The book features 17 brief chapters, divided into two main sections: "We Are Needy" (Part 1) and "We Are Needed" (Part 2). Here's a sample:

I am writing for people, like me, who are willing to move toward other struggling people but are not confident that they can say or do anything very helpful. If you feel quite weak and ordinary--if you feel like a mess but have the Spirit--you have the right credentials. You are one of the ordinary people God uses to help others.

You should read this book, then read it again, then read it with a few friends. You'll find your heart warmed toward the Savior, inclined toward other men and women, and and equipped for redemptively helpful conversations. One of my top books of 2015.

That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis

This is the third book in C. S. Lewis's Space Trilogy, which has been labeled, "theological science fiction." The first two installments are Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. All three books follow the adventures of Elwin Ransom. Whereas the first book takes him to Mars, and the second to Venus, the final book unfolds here on planet earth, where a great evil threatens to overwhelm the entire world. In the book, Lewis describes this catastrophe this way, "They have pulled down deep heaven on their heads." Here's an additional excerpt:

Perhaps few or none of the people at Belbury knew what was happening; but once it happened, they would be like straw in fire. What should they find incredible, since they believe no longer in a rational universe? What should they regard as to obscene, since they held that all morality was a mere subjective by-product of the physical and economic situations of men? The time was ripe. From the point of view which is accepted in Hell, the whole history of our Earth had led up to this moment.

If as a child, you liked the Chronicles of Narnia, chances are that you'll enjoy Lewis's Space Trilogy as an adult.

You Can't Make This Up by Al Michaels

I like to read a wide variety of stuff, sometimes by authors who in no way claim to be Christian. This book is Michael's memoir covering his life and diverse experiences as a sports announcer.

Sunday Night Football, with sportscasters Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, is a tradition in our household. And I could listen to Al Michaels call just about any sport. Perhaps his voice triggers some kind of nostalgia (he's been announcing since the 1970s), but he's also just downright good (some would say "miraculous") at what he does. Even if you're not into sports, this book provides a well-written and fascinating behind-the-scenes tour of some of the most memorable (and forgettable) experiences of the past 40 years. Here's an excerpt of his thoughts following a championship win by his own favorite team, the Los Angeles Kings:

We go to the parking lot, and I think of Curt Gowdy. "Don’t ever get jaded." I think also of the great Jim McKay, and his line from Wide World of Sports. "The human drama of athletic competition." You just don’t know what’s going to happen. But so often, sports have the capacity to create these moments. The kinds of moments I’ve had the great fortune to broadcast throughout a career I dreamed of since I was six years old.

From minor-league baseball in Hawaii to the Miracle on Ice to Monday Night Football to Sunday Night Football and so much in between, if there’s such a thing as reincarnation, and if you believe in the law of averages, in my next life I’ll be working in a sulfur mine.

In Mongolia.

On the night shift.

By the way, if possible, you might want to consider listening to the audiobook version of this book, since Al Michaels himself reads a number of the chapters!

It's a Wrap

I started writing The Radical Book for Kids around January 2014. About 20 months later my publisher, New Growth Press, sent an initial draft of the cover design. And just last week, I received the final version (displayed here).

I couldn't be more pleased with the fun yet vintage design. The pic below also shows a few pages from inside the book, featuring the chapter, "The Bible in One Sentence." I'm grateful to New Growth Press for doing such a fabulous job with all aspects of producing this book.

The Radical Book for Kids releases on October 24.

Growing (Up) in Grace

All parents want their children to grow up, well-prepared for life. I hope my own kids (all under the age of 11) learn to live in the reality of God's world: that there's a God, He's made this good (yet now-fallen) world, and He's come down into our world as the Rescuer from sin. These realities and many more are declared and reinforced all throughout God's Word. So, if the next generation is going to be ready for life, then all ages need to be saturated with Scripture.

That's one reason why I've spent the last few years writing The Radical Book for Kids: Exploring the Roots and Shoots of Faith (more on that title in future posts). Being published by New Growth Press in October, this book is for all kids, ages 8 and up. A quick search on amazon.com will yield various books promoting: “everything a boy/girl should know or do.” Yet all of them are secular in content and approach. The Radical Book for Kids is different; it’s what I wanted my own children to know about God our Savior, the Word He has written, and the world He has created.

Click here for a sneak peek of the chapter on "the spiritual disciplines."

 

 

Early Morning Prayer

John Stott (1921-2011), senior pastor at All Souls Church in London for 25 years (1950-1975), is perhaps better known as author of best-selling books that helped shape a generation of Christians. Among his over 50 books, Stott's Basic Christianity (1958) and The Cross of Christ (1986) have been the most influential.

One of Stott's biographers, Roger Steer, records the following about the everyday life and routines of this godly pastor. "Each morning (usually at five a.m.) John swung his legs over the side of his bed and before placing a foot on the ground started the day (whenever possible) with a Trinitarian prayer."

Good morning, heavenly Father;
Good morning, Lord Jesus;
Good morning, Holy Spirit.

Heavenly Father, I worship you as the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.
Lord Jesus, I worship you, Savior and Lord of the world.
Holy Spirit, I worship you, Sanctifier of the people of God.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

Heavenly Father, I pray that I may live this day in your presence and please you more and more.
Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you.
Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life:

love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, three persons in one God, have mercy upon me. Amen.”

I first read about this prayer of Stott's in a Christianity Today article back in 2001. It wasn't long before this prayer, easy to recall, became a regular, though not daily, part of my times of prayer, especially in early mornings when, before coffee, my own words didn't come so readily to mind. And here, I also commend it to you.

2015 Reading in Review

According to Goodreads (the app I use to keep track of what I've read, am reading, and want to read), I plowed through 10,285 pages (or 34 books) this year. The range of publication dates spanned 60 years, from 1955 (Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis) to 2015 (The Road to Character by David Brooks). Here are some of the ones I enjoyed most.

Battling Unbelief (by John Piper)
A shorter book on how to fight sin by believing the superior promises of God rather than the deceitfulness of sin.

You Can't Make This Up: Miracles, Memories, and the Perfect Marriage of Sports and Television (by Al Michaels)
An enjoyable memoir from long-time sportscaster, Al Michaels.

Newton on the Christian Life (by Tony Reinke)
*One of my favorites of 2015, this book summarizes the practical and Christ-focused theology and counsel of the pastor who wrote the hymn, Amazing Grace, John Newton.

Outliers: The Story of Success (by Malcom Gladwell)
A counter-intuitive analysis of what it takes to get ahead by one of today's most thoughtful and articulate journalists.

Rejoicing in Christ (by Michael Reeves)
*Another of my favorites--a goldmine of life-changing, heart-nourishing, Christ-centered truth.

Pilgrim's Progress (retold by Gary D. Schmidt)
A brilliant retelling of the classic story about the Christian life.

The Greater Journey: American's in Paris (by David McCullough)
A series of biographical vignettes woven together by master-storyteller, David McCullough.

You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity (by Francis Chan)
This short and pointed reminder about the essence and final goal of all marriages.

George Whitefield: America's Spiritual Founding Father (by Thomas Kidd)
An even-handed and well-written biography of this gospel-saturated, Christ-focused evangelist.

41: A Portrait of My Father (by George W. Bush)
A warm-hearted biography of U.S. President, George H. W. Bush, as told by his son, U.S. President, George W. Bush.

In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the U.S.S. Jeanettte (by Hampton Sides)
A gripping and detailed story that has been forgotten by many today.

Doctrine Matters: Ten Theological Trademarks from a Lifetime of Preaching (by John Piper)
Ten brief chapters try to capture the theological heartbeat of the ministry of John Piper.

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (by Tim Keller)
This is now perhaps the go-to book on prayer.

Home (by Marilynn Robinson)
A wonderfully humane story of life, family, regret, and restoration--as told by one of the premier novelists of our time.

David and Goliath (by Malcolm Gladwell)
Another counter-intuitive examination of a story we thought we knew--and its enduring validation and impact today.

Boys in the Boat (by Daniel James Brown)
The captivating and forgotten story of the unlikely Olympic rowing team who overcame all odds.

The Road to Character (by David Brooks)
NY Times columnist, David Brooks, reminds us how old-fashioned virtues are never out of date.

 

Enduring Words

The following paragraph opens John Piper’s brief biography of Pastor Charles Simeon (1759-1836), who, despite personal weakness, endured years of crushing adversity.

In April, 1831, Charles Simeon was 71 years old. He had been the pastor of Trinity Church, Cambridge, England, for 49 years. He was asked one afternoon by his friend, Joseph Gurney, how he had surmounted persecution and outlasted all the great prejudice against him in his 49-year ministry.

He said to Gurney, “My dear brother, we must not mind a little suffering for Christ’s sake. When I am getting through a hedge, if my head and shoulders are safely through, I can bear the pricking of my legs. Let us rejoice in the remembrance that our holy Head has surmounted all His suffering and triumphed over death. Let us follow Him patiently; we shall soon be partakers of His victory” (H.C.G. Moule, Charles Simeon, London: InterVarsity, 1948, 155f.).

Podcasts You Might Enjoy

I like listening to podcasts, especially ones about the Bible and theology.

In my opinion, the best ones to help you “seize your commute” should be  . . .

    • bite-sized (especially on double-speed),
    • high-quality (featuring knowledgeable teachers), and
    • spiritually beneficial (for head, heart, and hands).

Here’s my short list for your edification! (The links are directly linked to the rss feed.)

Three Reasons to Pray

1. God commands us to pray.

You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. (2 Corinthians 2:11)

God is the Sovereign over all things. So why bother praying? If for no other reason, this same Sovereign King commands us to pray.

2. God chooses to work through our prayers.

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32)

It’s been observed that we often think of prayer as following this sequence, which begins with us:  My prayer >  to God  > brings God’s purpose. Instead, God has always planned to use yours prayers to do His will, which looks more like:  God purposes > We pray > God accomplishes what He’s always planned. He works His will through our prayers.

3. God is magnified as the only true source of our help.

And call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” (Psalm 50:15)

When we don’t pray and God meets our needs (like the last time you filled up your car), He is glorified, but not as much as when, in response to our cries for help, He meets our needs. In the first scenario, we may barely think about God; in the second, we may think of little else.

Seize Your Commute

The average daily, one-way commute in the US is 25.5 minutes (according to USA Today, March 2013). That’s nearly an hour behind the wheel each day; or over 210 hours every year. In the same amount of time you can train for a half-marathon, ride a motorcycle from Alaska to Argentina, or get certified in yoga, at least that’s what the Internet claims.

But for the less ambitious among us, let me commend this podcast from Desiring God. It’s called Theology Refresh, and each episode discusses some topic relevant to our walk with and service to Christ.

Just think, by this time next week, you could have spent time considering what the Bible says about . . .

  • The Christian and Sports
  • Spiritual Warfare
  • Gratitude
  • Suffering
  • The End Times

Perhaps your commute already makes you think about suffering and the end times, but listening to these podcasts may help you think differently about them. I hope you’ll check them out and seize your commute.

Teacher's Tool Box

Books are a teacher’s tools. Some books (like tools) sit mostly unused until some specific need arises. But other resources are worn from repeated handling. Here is one teacher’s recommendation of some tools to keep close at hand. (Starred items are, in my opinion, the best of the best.)

Working with Bible Topics

*Dictionary of Bible Themes  (ebook only)

Baker Topical Guide to the Bible

Dictionary of Biblical Imagery 

Working with Bible Theology

*Systematic Theology

Charts of Christian Theology and Doctrine

Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible

Working with Bible Content

*New Bible Commentary

New Bible Dictionary

New Dictionary of Biblical Theology