Updated: Jun 3
When considering this statement, it is possible to quickly switch off and not think any more about this issue, but I pray that this niggles at you until you read and think more. To start with, I will give you a quote from one of the creators of Veggie Tales, and then outline three areas that will cause further reflection:
Does our relationship with God cause us to need more or fewer rules?
What is the thing that sin does to us that causes us the most pain and
Vaccination or inoculation of children against the Christian faith.
This might give enough food for thought on what your focus is when raising your children, teaching or thinking about ministry for children.
I thought I would insert my favourite Veggie Tales story.... Madam Blueberry!
To begin with, one of the most successful Christian children's stories that have been created is Veggie Tales. Watching Veggie Tales was one way for "Christian Children" to be taught how to behave. A quick episode every week was a sure-fire way for children to grow up and behave like Christians. Sadly, we are not wanting our children to be "Christian imitators" but genuine in their faith. Vischer, one of the makers of the series, said: -
“When I lost VeggieTales and Big Idea, one of my first responses when my head finally stopped spinning, was, ‘Wait a minute, did I just spend 10 years persuading kids to behave Christianly without teaching them Christianity?” he said.
“I can’t just tell kids to behave like Christians. I have to teach them the tenants of the faith.”
Children who learn to imitate how Christians behave without a genuine love for God can very quickly turn to be manipulated to imitate anyone else around them. It is then possible to change children from being the best-behaved to having incredibly ungodly lifestyles and behaviours. There are three key things we need to examine before developing a children's ministry or growing our own children in genuine faith in Jesus.
One – Why Are Rules Needed?
It is easy to see in the Old Testament that when we do not have a close relationship with God, we need clear rules and regulations to guide us. In the Old Testament (Exodus 20), we read about Moses meeting with God and giving the Israelites ten rules to live by. Their response was:-
18 Now all the people witnessed the thundering, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. 19 Then they said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” Exodus 20:18-19 NKJV.
They were not just afraid of God, they did not want a personal relationship with Him. They related to him through Moses and lived for HIs blessings, not the relationship God wanted them to have with Him. When Jesus arrived on Earth, the Pharisees had created or developed a system of 613 laws, 365 negative commands and 248 positive laws... By the time Christ came, it had produced a heartless, cold, and arrogant brand of righteousness. As such, it contained at least ten tragic flaws.
(1) New laws continually need to be invented for new situations.
(2) Accountability to God is replaced by accountability to men.
(3) It reduces a person’s ability to personally discern.
(4) It creates a judgmental spirit.
(5) The Pharisees confused personal preferences with divine law.
(6) It produces inconsistencies.
(7) It created a false standard of righteousness.
(8) It became a burden to the Jews.
(9) It was strictly external.
(10) It was rejected by Christ.
Outlined from Fan the Flame, J. Stowell, Moody, 1986, p. 52.
The main thing to learn from this is that the more we walk outside a relationship with God, the more rules we need and keep making so we behave as we believe God wants us to believe. Our focus becomes on works as we believe good or righteous living will please God. The more ungodly our society is becoming, the more rules they are making). The standard God sets for us is incredibly high. To be accepted by God we need to either accept what Jesus did for us on the cross or follow and keep all the rules God set for us in the Ten Commandments. We read in Matthew 5:28 that Jesus raised the standard for these and it was not just physically doing the wrong thing that was a sin. He said that if we even think the wrong things we are condemned. Even with all the rules, we cannot keep them to this high standard.
But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:28.
Jesus came to reduce all the laws into two simple commandments.
Love God with all your heart.
Love your neighbour as yourself.
30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31
Click HERE to watch the Bible Project explain what the Heart of the Bible is.
There is no way that following rules religiously will please God. It will not even bring us to a place where we can earn our salvation. Only when we pursue a genuine and deep relationship with Him will God be pleased with us. He has given us a way to deal with our sins and make us holy and able to come into His presence. As we are in a deep relationship with God and it becomes so important to us, we will naturally listen to the Holy Spirit and live in a way that will ensure nothing will cut us off from intimacy with our Heavenly Father.
Two: What Is the Greatest Pain Sin Causes
When we sin there are consequences for our behaviour. Sin causes pain, loss, hurt, remorse, and breakdown of relationships. It causes us to be separated from God. When Jesus was dying on the cross there was darkness and Jesus felt that God had turned from Him as He had taken on himself all the sins of the world. God is a Holy God and cannot have anything to do with sin. He had to turn away. In Matthew, we read how Jesus felt about losing His direct connection or relationship with His Father.
45 Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Matthew 27:45-46.
Micah and Isaiah both write about what happens with our relationship with God when we sin: -
Then they will cry out to the Lord, But He will not answer them. Instead, He will hide His face from them at that time Because they have practised evil deeds. Micah 3:4
But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear. Isaiah 59:2
On the other hand, we can read that no one or thing can separate us from the love of Jesus. When we deal with our sin, we are reminded in Romans 8 that nobody or nothing anyone can do to us can separate us from the love of Jesus.
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”
37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8: 35-39
When we love God with all our heart, we never want to do anything that causes us to be separated from Him. As we continue to mature, we find that we have shorter and shorter periods between sinning and seeking forgiveness until our default position is living without sin. We cannot bear being out of a relationship with God. Our heart's desire is to ensure we live in a way that not only avoids any sinful ways but when we do it quickly is followed by repentance, dealing with the sin and making sure we do not do it again. We cannot bear a life that is not based on intimacy with God.
If we concentrate on discipling children into an authentic and deep relationship with God, they will naturally avoid sin so they can stay connected with God.
Three – The Great Christian Inoculation
To many of you, this sounds quite strange. How can you inoculate others from the faith?
So we understand this, it is important to understand the science behind vaccines.
Vaccines work by stimulating a response from the immune system to a virus or bacterium. This creates a 'memory' in the immune system. This immune memory allows the body to 'remember' a specific virus or bacterium so that it can protect itself against this virus or bacterium and prevent the disease that it causes. https://vaccination-info.eu/en/vaccine-facts/how-vaccines-work
If children are in an environment where they are taught by someone who does not have a genuine relationship with God but lives guided by a set of rules and Bible verses, it is easy to cause them to behave in a "Christian" way while they are in that environment. Sadly, without a genuine relationship with God, the children can easily be persuaded to act differently in other environments. Unfortunately, the effect goes further and could be a lifelong issue. Teachers and parents who do not have genuine faith and relationship with God and teach something they do not agree with, live or think differently from what they teach not only turn children off from the faith but whenever these children encounter anything about God their prior experiences immediately stop them from desiring or wanting to know more.
There are so many stories of children that have gone to Christian schools or lived in Christian homes, and done well while at the schools or at home but have turned away from God for the rest of their lives.
When we give them a small taste of a dead or weak faith, they are given immunity from a genuine faith in God in the future. It works just like a vaccination!
When thinking about teaching values and morals, it is extremely important that is done with a genuine focus on revealing who God is and supporting them to come into a genuine relationship with God. The teacher and parent must have genuine faith, and be able to understand that:-
Only someone with a genuine faith can bring people into a genuine faith with God. They must desire and work on their faith to encourage others into the same relationship.
Children need to be modelled what genuine faith is.
Children must be taught the tenants of the faith.
Children must be brought into a real and deep relationship with God so they desire not to sin because they do not want to disconnect from their relationship with Him.
The teaching of morals and values has a place but cannot be the dominant focus. It must be done inside the development of a genuine and deep relationship and intimacy with God.
As you have read this, I pray that you are encouraged to grow in your relationship with God and as you do, inspire others to do the same. Behaviour changes will happen naturally as you and others listen to God's Spirit and do whatever it takes to not sin so you are in a constant relationship with the one you love the most … God!
Finally, the more you spend time with, learn about and talk to God, the more you will imitate Him. In Ephesians 5:1 we read: -
Therefore become imitators of God [copy Him and follow His example], as well-beloved children [imitate their father]; Ephesians 5:1 AMP