a solid grip on depravity

One day, quite some months ago now, E  (who is two) responded to one of my reprimands with a violent, “But I don’t want to be good, I want to be BAD! I AM BAD!”

Well, yes, yes you are, little one.  You don’t even know how bad you are.  Mommy’s bad, too.  It’s called sin. It’s called needing Jesus. It’s called deserving hell.

SONY DSCNeedless to say, I agreed with her out loud, and the dialog has been ongoing ever since.  We were driving back from the farm last week, and her little voice calls me from the back of the van, completely out of the blue: “But does R sin, Mommy?”  Her questions are kind of endless and often off-topic, but it’s beginning to be clear that she really, truly understands after all this that she is bad.  And that Mommy is bad.  And that bad people deserve punishment.

That’s all the farther that we’ve gotten. She knows about heaven and Jesus, but clearly isn’t grasping yet that bad people don’t go to heaven except by His grace and His blood.  Still, this is a little piece of the Gospel she’s grabbed a hold of, and it’s so very exciting to witness the pieces begin to fall together, wherever God takes her.  And it’s been a really good reminder to me of the Gospel itself, as I struggle to put it in two-year-old vocabulary.  (The biggest stumper so far: she asked me why Adam and Eve’s sin meant that all their descendants would sin, too. I couldn’t begin to string together an answer that made sense to her.)

No better Gospel.

I’ve been reading this biography of Spurgeon (did you know he was the eldest of seventeen children?!?), and I find that one passage has stuck unyieldingly in my head [chapter 1]:

C. H. Spurgeon had been announced to preach at Haverhill in Suffolk, and–an exceptional incident–he was late in arriving. So his grandfather began the service and, when the expected preacher did not arrive, proceeded with the sermon. The text was “By grace ye are saved.” He had gotten some way into his discourse when some unrest at the door made him aware that his distinguished grandson had arrived. “Here comes my grandson,” he exclaimed. “He can preach the Gospel better than I can, but you cannot preach a better Gospel, can you, Charles?”

There’s so much grace–so much truth–in that simple assertion! The best preacher in history still can’t improve on the Gospel.

Bible books and music

It turns out that it’s really difficult to find good Bibles / Bible books / devotionals for toddlers, especially ones that are reformed!  I just wanted to run through some of the ones we have found and are extremely happy with.  Notably, most of these are by the same author/publisher, which I think is more a sad commentary on what other publishers are up to than anything else.

My 1st Book Of Questions and Answers

This is a catechism book for little ones, based on the Westminister Shorter Catechism but generalized enough on the baptism questions to work for Baptists too.  Endorsed by R.C. Sproul, John and Noel Piper, and some other major people.  It’s not a terribly pretty book, but it’s pocket-sized and in a kid-friendly type.  This is one of a series–the others are books of memory verses, church information, etc.  This one’s a real gem.

God Never Changes (Learn about God)God Is Faithful (Learn about God)God Is Everywhere (Learn about God)
This is a series of board books exploring God’s attributes.  I think these are my favorite little board books–they’re very simple and give concrete examples of how, for instance, God is everywhere.  These are the only books on this list that aren’t strictly Bible stories, but I actually like them better for younger children because they’re very basic and simple to follow.
Missing Sheep, The (Stories Jesus Told) Selfish Servant, The (Stories Jesus Told) Lost Coin, The (Stories Jesus Told)
These are also board books.  Each one very simply retells one of Jesus’s parables.  They do leave out things, obviously for the sake of space (they are board books), but stay accurately to the text otherwise.
These are part of a series called “Biblewise.”  The next three sections feature very similar books–they’re all the same size (which is kind of like a large, full-color booklet–they’re stapled instead of having a perfect-bound spine), all very inexpensive ($3 or less), all well-illustrated, all strictly Bible-based, and all avoid depicting Christ, which I find an interesting choice (and a fairly good one, considering that children tend to believe what they see exactly).  These ones seem to be geared, very slightly, to the oldest audience.  There is quite a bit of text on each page–although certainly not beyond the attention span of, say, a four-year-old.  I expect that with all of these books, we would read them aloud to our children and then when they are older, have them read them by themselves, or even incorporate them into schoolwork.
These are a series called “Bibletime.”  They are VERY similar to the “Biblewise” books, except perhaps geared to a slightly younger audience.  But the difference is minute.  They are very thorough–the “Ruth” book, for instance, pretty much goes through the entire book of Ruth.
Jesus The Teacher (Bible Alive) Jesus The Storyteller (Bible Alive)Jesus The Miracle Worker (Bible Alive)Moses the Leader: Used by God (Bible Alive)David the King: True Repentance (Bible Alive David) Moses the Child: Kept by God (Bible Alive) David the Shepherd: A Man of Courage (Bible Alive: David) David the Soldier: A Man OF Patience(Bible Alive David)
And the last series we have is called “Bible Alive.”  As far as I can tell, this series only covers Jesus, Moses, and David, with quite a few books devoted to each.  I really like this configuration, though, because it breaks each story down into manageable segments that you can actually read in one sitting, but with all the books together they provide a fairly thorough outline of each life.  All three of these Bible series seem to be geared to a similar-aged audience, but these ones seem to be slightly more appropriate for the little ones.  The pictures are still full-color, but don’t stretch to the very edges of the page (less distracting) the way they do in the other two sets, the illustrations are a little more simplified, and there are fewer words to a page.  I believe, though, that this is the only one of the sets that devotes more than one book to each person.
My Bible Story Book
And at last we come to the book that we’ve settled on so far for our family reading time.  This is a hardcover book with stories from all throughout the Bible–a very standard storybook in that respect.  It tells the stories fairly simply and accurately, with an extra kind of “food for thought” question on almost every page (out from the main text).  We’ve really been enjoying it.  The biggest downside, in my opinion, is that the illustrations aren’t terribly good compared to many other Bible storybooks (or, indeed, the books by the same author that I’ve mentioned above).  They’re very cartoony.  One positive, though, is that there’s been a noticeable decrease in “What is that?” questions about the illustrations, because there aren’t very many extraneous, irrelevant things in the pictures.  And that’s a very good thing if you have a two-year-old.
The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name Jesus Storybook Bible Deluxe Edition
Finally, a different author!  😀  This book is also reformed, and its primary emphasis is to show how the entire Bible tells the story of Christ, so each story comes back to Christ whether in looking forward or in looking back.  The illustrations are gorgeous, and the theology is sound.  I think I first heard of this from Al Mohler, but it’s quite popular in general amongst the reformed crowd.  It’s a beautiful, sound book.  It just has way too much text per page to hold the attention of our toddler, and I actually appreciate the simplicity of Carine MacKenzie’s books a little bit more, although I know we’ll be reading this one too as our kids get older.  I will say that E loved it when she was a newborn–the artwork really is amazing.
Seeds of Courage 1Seeds Family Worship: Power of Encouragement, Vol. 5Seeds of Faith 2Seeds of Purpose 4Seeds of Praise 3
These CDs are fantastic. They’re just Bible verses.  Nothing else.  Just Scripture, and references, made into cheery kids music.  Musically, they’re more along the lines of Sovereign Grace kids or Absolute Worship kids than, say, Maranatha Kids–they’re not annoying or embarrassing to listen to.  They repeat a lot, obviously, because the whole point is to learn the verses and repetition goes along with that, but they’re really quite brilliantly done and fun to listen to.  More importantly, though, they WILL change your day if you have them going in the background!  It’s great to listen to worship music at all, but there’s really something significantly different about listening to straight Scripture and having the lyrics of the Word wind their way into your heart.  The only negative thing I can think to say about this wonderful series is that it isn’t free, because I wish everyone could own a copy!
So, as far as Bible learning goes, this is some of what works in our house!  Linked to Works for Me Wednesday.

Quotes from Spurgeon

This week I stumbled across an old, unattractively-bound book (online here) that I acquired in college while writing a research paper on corporal punishment in evangelicalism.  At the time I didn’t know Charles Spurgeon from Charles Sheldon, and thus was not inspired to read the book except looking for quotes to use in my paper.  But when I found it on the shelf this week, I dove into it much more eagerly, and am glad I did.  Some quotes from the first parts of the book:

Christian children mainly need to be taught the doctrine, precept, and life of the gospel: they require to have Divine truth put before them clearly and forcibly.  Why should the higher doctrines, the doctrines of grace, be kept back from them?  They are not as some say, bones; or if they are bones, they are full of marrow, and covered with fatness.  If there be any doctrine too difficult for a child, it is rather the fault of the teacher’s conception of it than of the child’s power to receive it, provided the child be really converted to God.  It is ours to make doctrine simple, this is to be a main part of our work.  Teach the little ones the whole truth and nothing but the truth; for instruction is the great want of the child’s nature.   
““”‘Feed My Lambs’–How to Do It”

The theory is that if we can impress youthful minds with principles which may, in later years, prove useful to them, we have done a great deal; but to convert children as children and to regard them as being as much believers as their seniors, is regarded as absurd.  To this supposed absurdity I cling with all my heart.  I believe that of children is the kingdom of God, both on earth and in heaven. 
–“Do Not Hinder the Children”

There is not a word in the New Testament to show that the benefits of divine grace are in any degree transmitted by natural descent: they come “to as many as the Lord our God shall call,” whether their parents are saints or sinners.  How can people have the impudence to tear off half a text to make it teach what is not true?  You must sorrowfully look upon your children as born in sin, and shapen in iniquity, “heirs of wrath, even as others”; and though you may yourself belong to a line of saints, and trace your pedigree from minister to minister, all eminent in the church of God, yet your children occupy precisely the same position by their birth as other people’s children do; so that they must be redeemed from under the curse of the law by the precious blood of Jesus, and they must receive a new nature by the work of the Holy Ghost.  They are favored by being placed under godly training, and under the hearing of the gospel; but their need and their sinfulness are the same as in the rest of the race. 
–“The Disciples and the Mothers”

the beauty of the Gospel

I have been reading C.J. Mahaney’s book The Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel the Main Thing over the past few days, and one thing he says has really stuck with me: the Bible is God’s story, not ours, and that should be a guiding factor in the principles we gather from the Word.

His example is David and Goliath. There’s a spectrum of approaches you can take to the passage (I’m broadening this beyond Mahaney, by the way):

Secularistic:The story of David and Goliath shows us that it isn’t always the strongest that win. A little boy with stones can fell a giant with a sword. Therefore, we should never give up or despair, and if we’re the “big guy” we should be careful not to be over-proud because all it might take is a slingshot to bring us down. 

Middle:The story of David and Goliath shows us that anything is possible when God is on our side. We shouldn’t be afraid of facing off against giants, because if God is with us, we’ll win the battle! Similarly, we see that Goliath was trusting in human power alone and so failed. 

Gospel-centered:The story of David and Goliath shows us that we are utterly hopeless without God. David was totally set up to lose; he couldn’t possibly have beaten a mighty foe like Goliath on his own. But God in His sovereignty is able to use a wretch like David to bring down the mighty. We can also see a parallel to the cross in this story. Like David, we’re in a battle against sin and our flesh that we can’t possibly hope to win. We’re lost causes. But just as God brought David to victory, He brings us to victory in Christ!

Subtle differences, but very profound. From a certain viewpoint, all of these interpretations are valid. You can draw from the text the first implication against overconfidence. You can draw the second implication that with God all things are possible–Philippians 4:13 and Romans 8:31 back up this interpretation very thoroughly. And, of course, you can draw the final implication, that the story shows God’s sovereignty and our weakness.

On the one hand, it seems like the latter interpretation is “forced” on the text. The passage doesn’t talk about Christ, or the redemptive power of the cross. It doesn’t even talk about God’s sovereignty. David doesn’t sit down and compose a psalm of praise when Goliath hits the ground. But. What do we know about God? We know that in Him there is “no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). God’s was doing the same thing and working from the same principles in David’s time as He was when Jesus went to the cross. God’s been “preaching” the Gospel to His people from the moment Adam and Eve stepped out of Eden. And the Gospel as it’s written throughout Scripture is that man is utterly lost without God, but that God is a God of love and salvation so praise Him! And that message is very clear in the story of David and Goliath. David tells Goliath (1 Samuel 17:45-47, ESV):

You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand.

So why did this exchange between a shepherd boy and a giant even happen? That “all the earth” (!) would see God, and that everyone who witnessed the exchange would learn that the Lord saves, not with human implements and might but by His sovereign power. He had dominion over the battle.

And here we come to a clearer reason why this is God’s story, not David’s. I have heard, so many times, that God “prepared” David for the fight with Goliath through using the fight with the lion and the bear. Like David’s a shepherd boy, sure, but he’s some kind of superhero shepherd. Yet that’s not what the passage is saying at all. David told Saul about those fights as part of his “qualifications,” yes, but he wasn’t saying, look, I fought off a lion and a bear, so I think I can handle a giant. No. David was saying, look, My God delivered me from a lion and a bear, and My God is going to deliver me from your giant. The story of David and Goliath has been about the sovereignty of God all along.

In conclusion, then, I’ve been deeply challenged by Mahaney’s book that when I read Scripture, I should be looking for the Gospel. I should be looking for the good news. Every passage should make me exalt God and abase self; to make me more aware of my helplessness without Him and more aware of His infinite power to save. If we’re reading stories like David and Goliath and coming away with only an interpretation like the middle one above–if we’re only seeing what God can do for us without simultaneously seeing how utterly helpless we are by ourselves–then we’re missing the Gospel, we’re missing the heart; we’re missing the whole point. We’re missing the opportunity to savor the beauty of the cross.