Monthly Archives: August 2010

Heavy Theology for Light-Weight Kids, Part 4

This lesson, taken from Romans 6, teaches a child that, as Christians, we have died with Christ and He lives within us.  These are concepts that adults sometimes have trouble grasping; yet children, with their imaginations still intact, can easily understand them.  Theology, for limited and fallible humans, is often as much a matter of being able to imagine the truth as it is being capable of understanding it.
Remember that because Adam sinned, we all sin.  And the punishment for sin is death, isn’t it?  But we also know that Jesus died to take our punishment.  He could do that because He was a flesh and blood Man and as a Man could represent us; but He was also God and never sinned, so He didn’t have to die to pay for His own sins.  If I die, I die for my own sins and can’t die for anyone else’s.  Jesus died for everyone’s sins, everyone who ever lived and anyone who is ever going to live.
Romans chapter 6 explains this even further.  It says in verse 3, “We who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death.”  Now, it’s important here to understand what the word “baptized” meant to the Jewish people.  It means to be immersed in water, but more than that, it means to pass through death into new life.  Ever since the nation of Israel passed through the waters of the Red Sea, out of slavery and into a new life of freedom, the idea of passing through water, through death, into a brand new life had been expressed through baptism.  This idea can be traced even farther back to the time of the flood, when Noah passed through the flood waters unharmed and into a new  life.  So when Paul says we were “baptized into Christ”, he means we passed through death with Christ.  The next verse says, “We were buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead. . . we too may live a new life.”  This is not talking about water baptism.  This is saying that we share in Christ’s death.  That essentially, we died with Jesus on that cross.  And because we share in His death, we also share in His resurrection.  This is hard to understand, I know, but it’s important to know these things in order to understand how Christ’s death gives us life.  Paul goes on to say: “If we have been united with Him like this in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection. . . . Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him.”
Paul goes on to explain that, since we died with Christ, we are dead to sin.  What does that mean?  Dead people can’t sin, can they?  Dead people can’t do anything!  If you are tempted to sin, you should remind yourself that dead people can’t sin!  If you accept Jesus’ death as your own death, you are also accepting His life as your own life.  Can Jesus sin?  Of course not!  So if you are tempted to sin, you must remind yourself that you are living Jesus’ life now and He can’t sin.
Here’s another way to look at it.  Before we become believers, we are slaves to sin.  We HAVE to sin, because sin owns us.  But when we believe in Jesus, He sets us free from sin.  Sin no longer owns us; Jesus does.  We no longer HAVE to sin.  Unfortunately, sometimes we still choose to, though.  Why do you think that is?   There are many reasons why we might choose to sin, but there is one really good reason to choose not to sin!  You belong to Jesus now!  He won’t force you to obey Him, but don’t you want to?  He gave His life for you, and He gave His life TO you.  Doesn’t He deserve your obedience in return?  After all, He knows what is best for you.  Sin is never best!
The sixth chapter of Romans ends with a verse that I’m sure is familiar to you all.  “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Does anyone remember what “wages” are?  It’s payment.  If you do some extra work for your mom or dad, they might pay you a few bucks in return.  That would be your “wage”, or “payment”; you’ve earned that money by what you did.  If you sin, you’ve earned death.  And everyone has sinned, so everyone has earned death.  Does anyone remember what “death” is?  It’s separation.  When your body dies, it’s separated from your soul and spirit.  When your body dies, you are separated from the people here on earth.  But that is not true death, because you are not separated from God when your body dies.  True death is separation from God.  That’s what hell is.  Hell is where God is not.  In hell, people are not only separated from God, but from everything that God is: love, peace, joy, beauty, goodness.  God does not want that to happen to anybody!  He wants everyone to live forever with Him.  That’s the “gift of God”.  Eternal life isn’t a “wage”.  It isn’t something you can “earn”.  It’s a free gift, and anyone can have it.  How do you get this gift from God? cHere, I have a gift I want to give to Johnny.  How can Johnny get this gift?  He just has to take it, doesn’t he?   Do you think Johnny  believes I’ll give this gift to him?  If he believe I will, he can come and take it from me.  See how easy that is?  You just believe and accept.  That’s the free gift of salvation.

“The gift of God is eternal life IN Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Accepting Jesus is the same as accepting eternal life.  Here’s a Bible. The Word of God is Jesus.  I’m going to place a pen inside the Bible.  This pen represents eternal life.  If I give this Bible to you, will you get the pen, too?  Why?  The pen is in the Bible.  Eternal life is in Jesus.  If you receive Jesus, you receive eternal life as well.  Do you think I might give you the pen and NOT give you the Bible?  No, I will not!  Do you think I might give you the Bible and not give you the pen?  Nope!  I will only give you the Bible with the pen.  You have my word on that.  And if you take Jesus as your Savior, you will get eternal life with Him.  You can’t accept Jesus and not get eternal life.  You can’t get eternal life without accepting Jesus.  You have His Word on that!

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Heavy Theology for Light-Weight Kids, Part 3

This lesson, taken from Romans 5, uses modern terms to explain original sin.  This is an important concept which, unfortunately, is often omitted from children’s curricula.
We know that we are all sinners and that this is the reason Jesus came to die for us.  Remember that the wages, or payment, for sin is death.  But where did sin come from?  Romans says, “sin entered the world through one man.”  Does it seem fair that Adam’s sin makes us all sinners?  But that’s exactly what happened.  Think of sin as a genetic disease.  What are “genes”?  Our genes make us what we are.  We get them from our parents, and they tell our bodies what color our skin should be and what shape our eyes should be and what kind of hair we have, and how tall we should grow. They tell us what we will be good at and what we will not be so good at.  Did anyone ever tell you that you look like your mom or like your dad? People might even see your grandparents or aunts or uncles in you. All the good things that you like about yourself you inherited from your parents.  Also, all the bad things that you don’t like so much came from your parents!  I inherited allergies and a genetic condition called Celiac disease from my parents. There are many conditions and diseases you can inherit from your parents.  The most deadly genetic disease that everyone gets from their parents is SIN!
Think about it.  You inherited your genes from your parents, but those genes didn’t start with your parents, did they?  They inherited their genes from your grandparents.  Your grandparents inherited their genes from your great-grandparents.  You can trace all genetic material right back to Adam.  Even Eve got her genes from Adam, since she was made from Adam’s rib.  So the truth is, all the genes in your body came directly from Adam.  You could even say that you were there, inside Adam’s body, when he sinned in the Garden of Eden.  So was I, and so was everyone who has ever been born.  And that’s why we are all sinners.  Because we are all part of Adam.
That could sound pretty hopeless, couldn’t it?  You can’t change who you are, no matter how hard you try.  You could dye your hair a different color, but your hair would grow back out the color you were meant to have.  You could cover your blue eyes up with contact lenses that make them look brown, but underneath your eyes would still be blue.  You can refuse to sing, but if you have a beautiful voice it will still be beautiful whether you use it or not.  I can avoid eating the things that make me sick, but I can’t stop having Celiac disease.  And we can’t stop being sinners, no matter how hard we try to be good.
But Paul did not write this letter to the Romans to make them feel sad!  Here is what he says: “For if the many died by the sin of the one man, (Adam)  how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many.”  In other words, Adam’s sin brought death to the whole world, but Jesus’ death brought life to the whole world.  Here’s another thing Paul says: “Just as the result of one sin was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.  Just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of  the one man the many will be made righteous.”   Adam’s sin made us all sinners, but Jesus’ death paid for all the sins ever committed by anyone, from Adam until the end of time.  He took our sin upon Himself on the cross, and He gives us His very own righteousness.  Not a very even trade, is it?  But He makes this trade with us because He loves us.  So, what do we have to do to trade our sin for Jesus’ righteousness?  Just believe in Him.  It really is that easy.
So, if it’s really that easy, why isn’t everyone a Christian?  Because here’s the catch, kids: Jesus doesn’t force us to accept this trade.  If we want to continue to live in our sins, He lets us.  If we don’t want to live with Him forever, He doesn’t make us.  He promised us free will when He created Adam and Eve, and He doesn’t break His promise.  If you don’t want anything to do with God, He lets you make that decision.  He will do all He can to try to change your mind, but He lets you decide.  That’s why not everyone is saved.  That’s why we need to try to help people understand what being a Christian really is all about.  We want to help them make the right decision.


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Heavy Theology for Light-Weight Kids, Part 2

This series of lessons is aimed at older elementary students.  It is easily adapted for younger or older age groups.  Lesson Two: All Have Sinned–
The whole Bible is important and you should study it all carefully.  But the book of Romans may be the best book to study in order to understand the process of salvation.  Paul uses logic and reason to explain why we needed Jesus to die for us.  He begins his argument by explaining that we are all sinners and deserve God’s wrath.
I think you all know that everyone is a sinner.  You know that you do wrong things.  I do wrong things.  Everyone does wrong things.  But it might be hard to admit that we deserve to die for doing those wrong things.  The sins we commit just don’t seem as bad as the bad things other people do!  But the truth is, anything we do in disobedience to God is rejecting God.  And rejecting God is the sin we deserve to die for.  God gives us all a choice: we can accept Him and live with Him forever, or we can reject Him and be away from Him forever.  It makes sense if you realize what death really is: it is separation.  Death here on earth is separation from our bodies, our families and friends.  This death is only temporary.  Our bodies will be resurrected when the end of time comes.  Only then will real life, or real death, begin.  Real life is being with God.  Real death is separation from God.   People who live their lives for God get to live with God forever.  People who live their lives rejecting God are given what they wanted:  they are allowed to be apart from God forever.  Unfortunately, being apart from God also means being apart from all that God is: love, pleasure, beauty, goodness.  That’s what real death is: separation from God and all that He is.
In the third chapter of Romans, Paul quotes many of the Old Testament prophets to prove his argument that everyone is a sinner and deserves God’s wrath.  “There is no one righteous, no not one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.” What does the word “righteous” mean?  It means doing everything perfectly right, just like God does.  Can any human being other than Jesus say he or she is just as perfect as God?  Whenever we do something that God would never do, we sin.  Whenever we refuse to do something that God would have done, we sin.  What kinds of things can you think of that we do, or refuse to do, that are not righteous?  “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit; the poison of vipers is on their lips.”  These are some very colorful, descriptive phrases!  What do they mean?  Any time we lie or try to twist the truth to suit ourselves, we are sinning.  Any time we say something nasty about someone else, or gossip, or try to run someone else down, the poison of vipers is on our lips!  We sin with our words as often as we sin with our deeds.
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”  What does that mean?  I am afraid that in America today, we have forgotten how to fear God.  We like to substitute the word “respect”, but even that word has lost its meaning.  If we truly respected God, we would not disobey Him.  We like to focus on the love of God, and God IS love, don’t get me wrong!  God loves us so much,  He gave us everything He had to give: He gave His own life for us. But God is also justice.  He must punish sin.  The punishment for sin is death, and as a just God He must sentence everyone who sins to death.  He promised us free will, and He gives that to us, even when it hurts us and others around us.  He will not force us to do the right thing.  And when we choose to do the wrong thing, we must take the consequences for that.  Separation from God, or death in hell, is the consequence for refusing His love.  That’s our choice.
These are hard things to understand sometimes, but we must understand how desperately we need Jesus before we can understand His death for us.  Since we all sin, we all must die and go to hell.  But Jesus took that punishment for us.  He died our death for us.  Then, God raised Him from the dead.  All we have to do is accept His death as our own death and we can be raised to live with Him forever in heaven!


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Heavy Theology for Light-Weight Kids

There’s been a trend in the past few decades to go easy on the theology when teaching kids.  At the very time in a human’s life that is most open and receptive to these ideas, teachers have instead backed off.  Wimped out, in fact!  I don’t know if adults are afraid of damaging a child’s self-esteem with truths about sin and the wages of such (let me assure you, kids are very aware of their own sinfulness until some thoughtless adult teaches them otherwise); or if teachers just don’t understand how important it is to instill these truths at an early age and so have gotten lazy, making do with fluffy stories that present only the happy parts of the Gospel.  Whatever the reason, I meet too many children on the cusp of adolescence who know that Jesus died for them but have no concrete understanding of why.  If a person does not see his own sinfulness or acknowledge that he deserves death as a result, how can he begin to appreciate the incredible gift of salvation God has offered him?

So, I am going to post a series of lessons aimed at older elementary age children that teach the basics of Christian theology as presented by Paul in the book of Romans.  Here’s Lesson One:  The Jewishness of the Gospel.

You can divide all the people of the world into two groups: Jews and Gentiles.  What are Jews?  (Descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  It’s important to mention all three, since the Arabs are also descended from Abraham through Ishmael!) What are Gentiles?  (Any people who are not Jewish)  The Jews are God’s chosen people.  God brought them out of Egypt and gave them His Word, His Law, and His Covenant.  God did not make any covenants with any other people.  The reason for this is that the Jewish people were to be His priests to the rest of the world.  They were to be the beacon that drew all other nations to the truth.  And most importantly, God planned to send the Messiah through the Jewish people.   But the Jewish people failed to keep up their end of the covenant. By the time the Messiah came, the Jews were so prejudiced against non-Jews they would not eat with them or go into their houses. Rather than reach out to the nations of the world, they were staying away from them! Now, God was using Paul and other missionaries to remedy this situation.
Paul was writing this letter to the believers in Rome.  What kind of people do you imagine made up the church of Rome, Jews or Gentiles?  I imagine they were mostly Gentiles.  And apparently, these Gentiles were feeling kind of superior to the Jews, because they were believers in the Jewish Messiah and most Jews were not.  I guess I can understand feeling that way.  After all, God never promised to send the Messiah to the Gentiles.  He was under no obligation to include Gentiles in the plan of salvation.  Salvation and Messiah was promised to the Jews.  When the Jews, as a whole, rejected their own Messiah and their own means of salvation, God then included the Gentiles in His great plan.  That made some of the Gentile believers feel kind of smug:  “You don’t believe in your own Messiah, and we do!”  Please don’t misunderstand me!  ALL of the first believers in Messiah were Jewish.  There were many, many Jewish believers who accepted God’s gift of salvation.  But the leadership of the Jewish people rejected Jesus and salvation, and so the Jewish people, in general, also rejected Him.  Some of the Gentile believers were actually saying that God had rejected His own people and they were no longer included in the great plan of salvation at all.  Do you think that could be true?  Of course not!  Humans may break their promises, but God cannot!
Paul was quick to squash this line of thinking.  He wrote, “I ask then, did God reject His people?  By no means!”  He goes on to explain that, as a Jew himself, he is very aware that God still had a remnant, or portion, of the Jewish people who believed in His Messiah.   He compares the people of God to an olive tree in a garden.  The root of the tree is salvation.  The Jewish people grew up from this root and had many branches.  Each branch would be an individual person.  Yes, Paul acknowledges that some of the branches have been cut off of this great tree of salvation because many Jews had rejected the Messiah.  And as a result, there was plenty of room for other branches from wild olive trees, Gentile branches, to be grafted onto the tree.  What does “grafting” mean?  When you graft a branch onto a tree, you first cut it off of the branch from a wild olive tree.  Wild olive trees do not bear as much fruit as a cultivated, or garden, tree does, and the fruit it does bear is of poor quality.  But if you cut off one of its branches and stick it into a slit cut into a cultivated olive tree, it will bond with the garden tree and begin to bear more and better fruit.  It will become a part of the cultivated tree.  Gentiles are like that.  We were “wild”, uncultivated people who could not bear good fruit.  But when we believed in the Jewish Messiah, God had mercy on us and grafted us into His cultivated salvation tree.  Instead of looking down on the unbelieving Jews, the Gentiles who had graciously been included in God’s plan for salvation should feel sad for them and grateful to God. Here’s how Paul puts it: “If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive branch, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches that have been broken. . . . They were broken off because of unbelief and you stand by faith.  Do not be arrogant” or proud.  And, Paul added, even though some of the tree’s natural branches had been cut off because they did not believe, God is able to graft them back on again if they turn to Him and believe.
Unfortunately, for a very long time the Gentile church did not feel love and gratitude toward the Jewish people.  Instead, the church tended to look down on them and mistreat them, even persecute them.  The church tried hard to distance itself from the Jews, even going so far as to move our own Easter celebration to a different month if it fell too close to the Jewish feast of Passover, in fear that someone would realize the connection between the two!  How grieved God must have been that His own people would treat His chosen ones in such a way.
In the past few decades, the church has repented of this horrible prejudice towards the Jewish people and is now returning to the Jewishness of our beliefs.  But it is happening very slowly!  We must be careful to always be aware of the Jewish root of the tree we are growing on.  Studying the Old Testament in order to understand God’s relationship with His people is an important part of understanding God Himself.  And we must always remember to be grateful to the Jewish people for their part in bringing God’s plan of salvation to us.


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