Into the Promised Land Without God

I have a confession to make.  If I am honest with myself, I believe I can save the kids and families of our church apart from God. I know it sounds ridiculous as I write it down. But, its true. It’s something I have to repent of often.  

(c) Sweet Publishing (sweetpublishing.com) and distributed by Distant Shores Media

(c) Sweet Publishing (sweetpublishing.com) and distributed by Distant Shores Media

I love creating clear pathways for parents and church volunteers to disciple kids more effectively and efficiently, but I have a problem. I often start sentences with one of the following phrases, “If we just did this… If people would just… If we just had…” Fill in the blank to any of the previous phrases and all would be right with my parenting or my ministry. I put my hope in the right system, the right amount of volunteers, or the right discipline technique. I think that will bring salvation and make everything right with the world.

Consider God’s Word:

“Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” And [Moses] said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” Exodus 33:3, 15-16 (ESV)

Many of us believe we can get into the Promised Land without God. On the way to the land of milk and honey, the Israelites gave up on God and Moses, his mediator. They create a golden calf to worship in God’s place. In this passage, Moses intercedes for the Israelites so God doesn’t consume them or desert them. Moses understands that if God doesn’t go with them, it would be better if he’d just destroy them now and get it over with. Moses understands that a life apart from God is not worth living.

The reality is many of us would be content arriving at the Promise Land without God’s presence. Think about it. How often do you spend praying for God’s blessings on your family or ministry? It’s easy to rely on the newest attractional techniques, the easiest curriculum, or the best discipline methods rather than God.

Many of us as parents or church leaders create our own golden calves--the right way to discipline, to market our ministry, to lead strategically, or the right systems to make ministry run efficiently. We think these things will make everything right in our world. These are all great tools we should acquire and utilize, but we need to understand they are not the goal. Systems don’t save kids.

I have heard from multiple ministry leaders that as they have built their ministries, they came to a point where the ministry was so effective and efficient, it didn’t leave room for the Holy Spirit. They realized they rarely prayed for God’s wisdom or blessing as they made plans or events. They had arrived at the Promised Land but they didn’t bring God along with them. It is a scary place to be.

As we disciple kids, let’s be sure to give them Jesus and not just something cool, relevant, or attractional. Let’s pray for God’s wisdom and his calling for our volunteers and ministries. Let’s repent of trying to save families without Jesus or the Holy Spirit. Let’s confess, “Unless you go with us, don’t bring us into the Promised Land.”

What practices or rhythms help you remember your need for God’s presence?

Nine Questions and Answers about The Beginner's Gospel Story Bible

The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible is a gospel-centered, Bible storybook for toddlers and preschoolers with 52 Bible stories retold in a simple and compelling way. Here's nine key questions and answers that will help you learn more:

What makes your book different from other Bible storybooks? Some Bible storybooks miss the meaning of individual passages because they focus on the big picture. Even more often toddler story books miss unifying biblical themes because they’re focused re-telling individual stories. A few Bible storybooks—like the ones by Marty Machowski and Sally Lloyd-Jones—do both well, but they aren’t geared toward early readers. That’s what makes this book different. Through the faithful re-telling of key stories, toddlers and early preschoolers will hear the good news of God’s love for them clearly expressed in ways that will speak to their young hearts.

What led you to want to write a Bible storybook for toddlers and first readers? As I said above, there are a number of excellent gospel-centered resources for young children—great story books and curriculum, but few of them focus on toddlers and first readers. When teaching this age group, I found myself reaching back to resources from the seventies and eighties—storybooks by Ella Lindvall and Ken Taylor. I saw a need, and I wanted to provide a more contemporary resource for ages two to five.

Can children that young really learn the gospel? Yes. Jesus said, “Let the children come to me.” He meant kids of every age. You see, children often learn the language of faith before their faith is fully realized. As soon as kids start talking, we can help them learn a beginning vocabulary of faith.

What do you mean by “a beginning vocabulary of faith”? In The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible, kids will learn the name of Jesus as well as the names of other key Bible characters. They’ll also learn basic Bible words like sin, promise, Jesus, Savior, pray, and forgive.

What are the special features that will help keep beginning readers engaged? In all 52 stories, one key truth is highlighted in bold letters. Each story also ends with a question that parents and caregivers can use to further reinforce the truth. Brightly colored illustrations highlight each story and add fun teaching elements of counting, opposites, patterns, and object recognition to keep the youngest child’s attention.

Does the book have a central theme? Yes. The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible traces God’s perfect promises through thestories of the Old and New Testament. Our youngest children will see how our good and all-powerful God always keeps his word (Num. 23:19). The way he fulfills his promises is better than anyone could have imagined!

Why 52 stories? One for every week of the year. In addition to being a helpful resource for family devotions, I wanted this book to be a helpful tool for Sunday School and children’s ministry classrooms as well. Since there are 52 stories, you might consider teaching one story per week as part of a one-year Bible curriculum for toddlers and young preschoolers.

When I’m telling stories to young children, what should I do to keep the gospel central? As you read the story, help the children identify with the characters who need God to save and rescue them. Then, as you tell the story, make God the main character. Keep who he is and what he does to rescue and save front and center as you tell it.

What kinds of things did you learn about God’s Word or about yourself while you were writing? One Bible truth I didn’t know is that the Ark of the Covenant went in the midst of the people (Jos. 6:9) when they marched around Jericho (not out in front as I originally wrote down in a first draft—thank God for good editors!). That fact illustrates a key truth for me. To accomplish what God has called me to as a parent and a Christian, I desperately need God to go with me—in my midst—every day. I pray this book will encourage that kind of desperate faith for you and your family too.