One of the things that I love and am frustrated by with my oldest daughter is that she has an unlimited supply of questions at her disposal. I love it because she really wants to know about the world around her. It is frustrating because as a teacher, I get asked questions for a living and sometimes I reach question overload. But I want her to keep asking questions, because at the heart of learning and at the heart of Christianity are important and valuable questions. For centuries, Christians have agreed that questions and answers from and for children are good. But in the past decades, a tried and true method of discipling children in Christian homes has fallen into disuse (though it is making a comeback in some areas). This method is not VBS, or church camp or youth group; this method is called catechesis.
Catechesis means “instruction or teaching” and in Christianity catechesis has been done in the form of questions and answers and through this method, children are imbued with and formed by biblical and doctrinal truth. In the early church, this method was also done for adults who were converted and were seeking to be baptized.
This leads us to ask two questions about catechesis: why should I catechize? and how should I catechize? I will answer the first of these questions today and the second in a following blog post.
You should catechize your children because:
You are creating a peg board of truth in their mind. My family and I are strong believers in the classical method of education. (You can find our more about this method here and here.) At the heart of the classical method of education is teaching your young children facts and truths through them memorizing these facts and truths. For example, my daughters can say many of the prepositions in the English language and they can give you a definition of a preposition though they are not old enough to understand the function of preposition. However, when they are old enough and they begin to study formal grammar, they will not have to waste time wondering what a preposition is and which words are prepositions because they have already committed to memory the information which they need.
This same principle works in catechesis. For example, question 4 of the catechism we use to teach the girls says this: “Why did God make you and all things? Answer: For his own glory.” Do my daughters understand what the word glory means? No, but they have committed this question and answer to heart. The use of this information comes apparent when in the future if someone were to say God created mankind because he needed someone to love or because God was lonely, my girls will know: “Hey, that is not right, because God created everything for his own glory.” By teaching your children these questions and answers, you are giving them a peg board of truth (as my wife calls it). What she means by this is that you giving your child reference points from which they can understand God, themselves and the world around them. They might not be confronted with alternative views of the world yet, but when they do, they will be prepared with the peg board of truth by which they filter truth and falsehood. By teaching your child the truths of our glorious
God through a catechism, you will be creating a peg board of truth in their mind by which they can navigate our ever-changing world.
Catechisms contain quick and easy to understand doctrinal truths. A possible objection to catechesis is that if you are going to expend the effort to have your child memorize something, they should be memorizing Scripture. I am not against Scripture memory even for children, but the language of Scripture can easily be lost on a child. The metaphors, idioms and figurative language, which are easy for us as adults to understand, can easily fly over the head of small child. Also, a child would have to memorize an incredible amount of Scripture to learn all of the doctrinal truths that a child would learn memorizing a catechism.
For example, question 1o of the catechism we use says: “Where is God? Answer: God is everywhere.” The proof texts listed for this catechism answer are Ps. 139:7-12; Jer. 23:23-24; Acts 17:27-28. This would be quite a bit of memorization for a small child and it would be much easier to help the child memorize the point of those passages: God is everywhere. Obviously, the memorization of Scripture and the catechism should be done in tandem for the best result.
Children will internalize the doctrinal truth and ask good questions. The best way to internalize something is to hear it and to say it over and over again. This is how our minds work, both for good and for ill. A person suffering from depression maybe has a mantra in which they say, “I am worthless. I am worthless.” Because this is said over and over again, the depressed person internalizes it and it becomes part of themselves and how they view the world. Now, if this can be done with falsehood, like the mantra of the depressed person, shouldn’t we seek to help our children internalize truths, like God’s love and care for them? Using a catechism will fill a child’s mind with beautiful and eternal truth that will be good for their soul.
One of the other things that we have noticed with teaching our children through a catechism is that the questions and answers provoke more questions. In other words, our children are thinking about the truths that we are teaching them and that is exactly what I as a parent want. We want our children to think through and think about what we are teaching them. And the catechism will raise issues in their minds which would not have cross their minds otherwise.
Do you use a catechism with your children? What are some benefits that you have seen from using this method? Let me know me your thoughts in the comments section below.
Next week, we will look at how parents can teach their children a catechism.
Early last Friday, as I searched my desk for my lesson plans so I could remember what I was going to teach my hooligans…er, I mean, students, my wife sent me an interesting text: “What’s our role in the fight against abortion?” I gave her a fairly generic, carbon copy answer about what Christians should do. Then she sent back an even more profound question: “No, what specifically should our family do?”
Abortion is a societal issue and I always have relegated it to something that happens “out there” and that should be dealt with by politicians and activists. After all, Duffau is not a hot bed of political activism or activity. Yet my wife’s question brought the issue home for me. What should I do and my family do to not just fight abortion, but to end abortion? John Stonestreet, a Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, stated well the goal of pro-life advocates the other day in a radio interview: “We do not just want to make abortion illegal. We want to make it unthinkable.” He went on to make the point that this is done, not by laws and regulations, but by changing people’s hearts and minds. As parents, we have the responsibility and the opportunity to do just that with our children; to raise up our children with a positive, God-fearing view of all human life from conception until natural death. How do we do that?
Disciple your kids intentionally. Your children are your responsibility to disciple. Do not rely on their Sunday School teacher, or pastor, or children minister, or youth minister. God has given you your children and you should teach them what the Scripture teaches. Scripture teaches that each and every human being, no matter how small, disabled or old, bears God’s image (Gen. 1:26). It also teaches that God himself is knitting together the child in the womb (Ps. 139:13-16). Furthermore, it teaches that to take a human life is morally wrong (Exodus 20:13). These truths must be ingrained into our children’s minds, so that they can defend the rights of the unborn, as well as the disabled and the elderly who are targeted by euthanasia and assisted suicide policies. Being pro-life does not begin with going to a protest or a march. Being pro-life begins with you teaching your child that God created life and he alone has the right to decide how long or how short of a time a person should live.
Become “fully” pro-life. Too often the perception of pro-lifers is that once the child gets out of the womb, we drop our interest in the child’s well-being and stop caring. May this never be! We should care about the child and help the child to flourish, not just care that they are alive. This means that as a family we should teach our children to care for the least of these. We need to teach our children (and ourselves) what James states in ch. 1 of his letter: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” As families, we should help organizations that aid impoverished or at-risk families. We should help and reach out to those who might be “undesirable” according to our societal standards. Befriend a poor family, take them to church, feed them a meal weekly, help them to help themselves out of poverty. Being pro-life means taking care of the least of these, even after the least of these are born.
Teach your children a positive sexual ethic. When I was a teenager, Christian ethics revolved around 4 commands: Don’t drink; don’t smoke; don’t cuss; and don’t have sex before marriage. These rules are all true and applicable for teenagers in our society, but they are framed negatively. The problem with framing rules negatively is that children then seek to do that very thing. Paul even testifies to this when he talks about coveting in Romans 7:7-8; the law said, “Do not covet” and so what do people who are ruled by their sinful nature do? They covet! As parents, we do not need to tell our children just what not to do, but what to do. We need to tell them of the glorious gift of sex and that this gift is to be enjoyed only within the marriage relationship. We define sex, the sexual relationship and the confines of the sexual relationship in positive terms. Instead of “Do not have sex”, say “Enjoy sex in marriage.” Teach children that sex is a good thing and is to be enjoyed by marital partners.
Teach your children personal responsibility. Our children need to learn that actions have consequences. Though our culture tries to negate this fact constantly, it is one of the things God built into nature. This begins early and it begins at home; do not rely on the schools to do this, because school administrators wring their hands so much over discipline issues that I am sure even detention will be outlawed before long due to adverse litigation. And again this does not have to be negative. Good actions have good consequences; bad actions have bad consequences. Children and teenagers do not understand this, but there are ways to teach them. At the school where I teach, a chess club has recently been started and I am very glad because chess is a game which teaches that actions have consequences. If you do not pay attention and move your queen where a pawn can take her, too bad; that is how the game is played. Chess is a game that teaches children to consider what affect their actions will have and to act accordingly. With trophies and participation ribbons being dispensed like candy, our children desperately need to learn that their actions do have consequences, either negative or positive.
What do these things have to do with abortion? Everything. Working to form your children’s minds according to Scripture is the most important weapon in the fight against abortion. Remember our goal is not just to make abortion illegal but to make abortion unthinkable. The only way to do this is to train children to understand how God views human life and what he demands of us in regard to human life.
The fight against abortion does not begin at picket line, or by protesting in front of Planned Parenthood. It begins on the real front line: the home. Are you ready to fight?
Depression is like walking through pudding. Or at least that is the way I describe it. You are surrounded by things which should be sweet and desirable, like chocolate pudding, or even better, banana pudding. But there is no sweetness. There is no desire. There is only an unending slog through the sweetness without being able to partake of the sweetness yourself. In fact, the sweetness slows you down and hinders you just as if you were walking through a pool of pudding.
And worse yet, due to our societal and cultural stigma regarding depression, a depressed person feels like they must make this slog alone. Thankfully, this is not the case. Zack Eswine has written an incredibly helpful (and mercifully short) book on depression, but with a unique twist. Rather than just examining what depression and attacking the problem head-on, he instead examines the sources and effects of depression by looking at depression through the lens of the life of the “Prince of Preachers”, Charles Spurgeon.
Sermon Notes is an ongoing series of posts in which I delve further into the text which was preached on Sunday and explore aspects or topics which time did not allow to be discussed more fully.
When reading the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy), it is easy to get the wrong idea. In Exodus through Leviticus into Numbers and then Deuteronomy, the student of the Bible reads about all of the sacrifices and laws that the people of Israel had to keep and obey. Because they had to obey these laws and perform these sacrifices, it is easy to get the idea that the Israelites were saved by their keeping the law. In other words, all an Israelite had to do to have a saving relationship with God is to keep the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20), circumcise their sons (Gen. 17), not wear cotton-polyester blend shirts (Lev. 19:19) (as well as obey all of the other laws) and they would be saved; they would be reconciled to God. This, however, has never been the case. Salvation has always been by faith.
Take, for example, Abel and Cain. Both Abel and Cain offered sacrifices to God. Cain offered “the fruit of the ground” and Abel offered “the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions” (Gen. 4:4). However, “the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he [God] had no regard.” They both sacrificed; even in the Levitical system of sacrifice, there are sacrifices made with plants and others with animals. Shouldn’t God have been satisfied and pleased by both sacrifices? After all, they were just trying to honor him. What is the difference between Abel’s sacrifice and Cain’s sacrifice? Hebrews 11 tells us that faith is the difference. “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts.” (Heb. 11:4) Abel gave his sacrifice by faith. Abel was commended and saved by his faith.
In Galatians 3:6-9, we see that salvation by grace through faith has always been God’s plan. Abraham “‘believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.’” (Gal. 3:6, cf. Gen. 15:6) And all of those who are Abraham’s sons are those who believe in Christ. It is not by works, nor by parentage. Faith makes one the son of Abraham. The Judaizers, who were opposed to Paul and were fooling the Galatians, seemed to think that it was the obedience of Abraham that resulted in Abraham being declared righteous. Paul here gives a resounding reply: the righteousness of God is given to those who are of faith.
Paul then in turn cuts off their only avenue of retreat: the Old Testament. The Judaizers appealed to the Old Testament and said, “Look, Gentiles, you must keep the laws and be circumcised in order to be a part of God’s special, chosen people; you must become like ethnic Jews.” But Paul, by arguing that even Abraham, the biological father of the Jews, was not saved by works, but instead was saved by faith.
An important lesson presents itself to us as students of the Bible: we must always read the Old Testament in light of the New Testament. Where things are concealed and hidden in the Old Testament, the New Testament makes plain as day. For example, how do Gentiles become a part of God’s special, chosen people? In the same manner as Abraham: by faith! While this was hidden and obscured before the coming of Christ, Christ changes everything and makes these things which were hidden, clear. So when you are reading something in the Old Testament and you have a question which puzzles you, look to see if the answer to your question has been given in the New Testament.
Modern life is busy and is predicated on busyness. You are not really successful or even really living unless you are busy. Between work, family, children, hobbies, church, television, time slips through our fingertips and we wonder where it has gone. So when pastors (like myself) say, “You need to be reading your Bible daily,” we can feel the collective eye roll and thoughts like this flashing across people’s mind: “Yeah, like I can fit that in too! Between Jimmy’s basketball practice, my doctor’s appointments, Suzy’s piano lessons, I will magically pull some time out of my hat in order to read my Bible.”
Our busyness has resulted in American Christianity being biblically anemic. Most Christians today do not even read their Bible daily or even weekly. Daily Bible reading is not just another hoop that pastors dream up to sadistically torture their church members; it is one of the primary means by which the Lord strengthens and empowers Christians to live the Christian life. With so many Christians reading the Bible so little, is it any wonder that so many Christians feel distant from God and powerless before temptations to sin? Reading our Bibles is too important to be set aside; we must find the time to read the Bible. Here are some helpful tips to help you read the Bible when you have no time.
Reading some Bible is better than reading no Bible. In January, well-intentioned Christians choose a Bible reading plan. Most Bible reading plans have you reading between 3-5 chapters a day so that you read through the Bible in a year. But these plans can also burden a Christian who has little time for Bible reading. My advice is read a chapter a day and don’t start in Genesis. Choose a Gospel or a New Testament letter. One chapter a day amounts to five minutes. Anyone can find five minutes to spare to read their Bible. If you were to read one chapter a day from your Bible, you will have read through the Bible in three years.
Choose a time that works for you. The traditional line is: “YOU MUST DO YOUR BIBLE READING IN THE MORNING!” This is good advice, but it does not work for everyone. Some people cannot cognitively function before 8 AM. Instead, choose a time that works for you. If it is the early morning, great. If it is at the end of your lunch break, that’s fine. If it is in the evening, fantastic. Just choose a time and stick with it. Consistency is more important than the time you actually pick.
Use an audio Bible. Remember reading some Bible is better than reading no Bible. If you have a commute, redeem it. Very little of what is on the radio is worth the time. The pop stations only play five songs. Talk radio is a bunch of old white men ranting and raving. Public radio is hit or miss. Redeem your commute by listening to Scripture. The YouVersion Bible app for the iPhone has audio Bibles built into the app that you can stream while you drive.
Use a digital Bible. This dovetails with the last bit of advice. If you have a smart phone (and odds are that you do), download a Bible app, such as YouVersion. Take five of the minutes you would use to scroll through Facebook or Instagram to read the Bible instead. Smart phones can be enormous wastes of time or they can be great advantages in our walk with Christ.
Paul’s admonition to the Ephesians to make “the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:16) is as true today as it was when Paul penned those words. We must not bow to the idol of busyness and sacrifice our time on its altar. These tips ultimately boil down to one fact: our time is a gift from God to be used in His service. So let’s use our time wisely so that we will have enough time to read our Bibles and grow in our relationship with the Lord.
One of the greatest blessings of the modern world is that we have so many good Christian books to read to help you grow as a Christian. This blessing can also be a curse; sometimes we go to the fountain of Christian books and find that it is grown over with algae and turned bitter and harmful; pernicious and unhelpful books have entered the fountain and corrupted it. How do we discern the good and helpful books from the harmful ones?
Beginning this week, I am going to take a stab at helping answer this questions through a monthly post called “Helpful Hints”. I will choose a helpful book and tell you how and what in it is helpful for your Christian walk. I will answer two simple questions: who should read this book? and why should you read this book?