This week my “day” job started by up again. My day job is teaching English Language Arts and Reading to 7th graders. People usually feel that I am a glutton for punishment; I pastor a church AND teach rambunctious junior high students about all the grammar they want to forget. But this is because the Lord has seen fit to bless me with a unique challenge: bivocational ministry.
I will be candid with you: bivocational ministry is a challenge. If you read any pastor blog, magazine or journal, you will be confronted with the fact that the modern pastor is required to wear many hats: preacher, prayer leader, hospital visitor, funeral conductor, administrator, social media marketer, bathroom cleaner, yard mower and cat wrangler. What is required of most pastors today is daunting. Now imagine that you must squeeze those pastoral duties around an 8-to-5 job, family life and marriage. You see why bivocational ministry is a challenge, don’t you? So how do I and the numerous other bivocational pastors out there make it through the day? Continue reading “The Challenge of Bivocational Ministry”→
With his book Pray About Everything, Paul Tautges has done something unique: he reminds us that prayer is not a solitary activity. This book is helpful call for pastors, churches and laypersons to remember the importance of the church not only praying for each other, but with each other. Tautges divides this helpful book into three sections: the first is a reminder and theology of God dependency; the second is a series of meditations for prayer meetings on a variety of subjects related to God dependency; the third is a series of appendices with helps to push a congregation towards a spirit and practice of God dependency.
Prayer meetings, in my experience, are usually quite underwhelming. We read in Acts how the Spirit moves powerfully and forcefully as the people of God pray. Yet, when most congregations gather to pray today, the prayers are usually man-centered, particularly on the physical health of the congregation. If you have been underwhelmed and feel like this is not what the Spirit wants our prayers meetings to be like, this is a book which will help you.
Last week, I presented several reasons why you, as a parent, should teach your child the truths of the Christian faith using a catechism. This week I will discuss the more practical side of teaching your child a catechism.
Anyone who has ever worked with children, especially small children, knows that you have two seconds to get done what you need to get done. After two seconds, the imperceptible-to-the-adult-eye details of the room begin to distract the children, like that one little, thin pencil line in on the top of the door frame, as well as their own little minds (“Why wouldn’t I be thinking about Darth Vader? Duh.”). These things are good, because you want your children to be curious. These things are also frustrating, because you just want them to pay attention. And it seems that with spiritual things the combination of hypersensitivity to obnoxious decor-related details and attention deficiency increases. Or at least when you are trying to teach them spiritual things. So what is a Dad and Mom to do to get the little darlings to sit down long enough to learn about Jesus?
It is a marathon, not a sprint. One question a week. That is all it takes. More and you will burn yourself and your kids out.
Pick a time to introduce your children to this week’s question. My wife uses part of her homeschool time to introduce and review the questions. And by introduce I mean that she and the girls memorize the new question and answer. She asks the girls seven times the question and answer and the girls recite it and memorize it. The girls learn the question and answer by heart. It is not hard and children are fantastic memorizers. (Also, my wife somehow uses puppets to help with the memorization, but you would have to ask her about that.)
Memorization requires review. The key to memorization is not the initial memorization but review the information frequently. That way it becomes internalized.
Review does not need to be painful. Ask your kids the questions at the dinner table. Ask them in the car. Ask them at random times during the day. If you have a family devotion after a meal, that would be a good time to throw in the catechism question. You do not have to sit the kids down on the couch to review. It can happen anywhere.
Modernize the language where needed. The catechism we use was written in 1798 so the language, at times, is a bit archaic. So modernize it. Use should instead of ought. Change thou to you, thine to your and so on.
But how do you know if your children are really learning the questions? The answer is, as weird as it seems, when they intentionally give you the wrong answer. Our youngest daughter thinks it is hilarious to give us the wrong answer to the questions. As discouraging and obnoxious as this is, it does mean something: she knew the right answer enough to put it to the side and make up a wrong answer. And also indicates something else: there is a spiritual battle going on in her soul. Her sinful nature, by making a joke of God’s truth, is waging war against the truth. And this leads me to the final bit of advice:
Pray that your child’s heart would be transformed by the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, my teaching my children the catechism will not change their soul. It will not bring them from darkness to light. Only God can do that. But God has called us to be faithful to teach our children His truth, as it says in Deut. 6:7: “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” By teaching our children these truths, we are preparing the soul so that the Holy Spirit can plant, water and raise up the plant of salvation. And we must commit ourselves to pray that the Holy Spirit would bring about this change in their lives.
To end, which catechism should you use? That is up to you, but I would suggest that you use one which accords with your theological beliefs. We use a Baptist catechism because are committed Baptists. Below I will list some options for different groups
Baptists – This website has numerous Baptist catechisms. The Catechism for Boys and Girls was designed for elementary age children, though the first few questions are easy enough a four year old can learn them. The Orthodox Catechism by Hercules Collins is one which accords with the 1689 Confession.
Evangelical – The New City Catechism is a catechism for a broadly evangelical audience produced by Tim Keller and Sam Shammas. The website is nifty (that’s right, nifty) and there is also an app for the iPad. It’s advantage is in its broadness; most evangelical denominations (Baptist, Presbyterians, Assemblies of God) could agree with most parts of this catechism.
Presbyterian – The First Catechism is introductory catechism for the Westminster Standards.
New Covenant Theology Baptists- For those who want a distinctly NCT perspective regarding the law and the Sabbath, there is the Catechism for Little Ones.
And as a special treat and only after four takes (because someone was rolling around on the ground in the other three), my wife recorded my daughters answering some of the questions. *Disclaimer* The questions are not asked in the order in the catechism and also I do not know why Gwenny felt compelled to say “Hammer, Hammer” after every question.
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.
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?