As we continue our look at family devotions, I wanted to take time out to talk about two fantastic resources for your family. Don’t forget that you can win one of two copies of Old Story New by commenting on Monday’s post.
Have you ever wished that somebody would release a product and the next time you turn around there is not one but two? For instance, if a few years ago you wished for a rewrite of Jane Austin to compete with the banal teen paranormal fiction that flooded the shelves, you would have had nothing. Then, BAM, Sense & Sensibility & Sea-Monsters AND Pride & Prejudice & Zombies both hit the market.
For a long time, parents were confined to children’s Bibles that bordered on ridiculous. Whether it was the “Bernstein Bear Bible” or the “Rhyme Time Bible” or any other children’s Bible, they all had several flaws. Some were so concerned with style, or rhyming, that they glossed over the actual point of the Bible Stories. Others did a great job telling the stories of scripture, if your measuring stick for “great job” is turning the stories into Aesop’s Fables. The options were either non-sense or moralism. Parents had to work hard to help the Bible’s along.
Over the past few years, this has changed. Two new children’s Bibles have been published and both are excellent! The Jesus Storybook Bible and the Gospel Story Bible would both be an asset to any family. The Jesus Storybook Bible is written by Sally Lloyd-Jones and is the product of applying the teachings of Tim Keller and Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City to a children’s Bible. The Gospel Story Bible, by Marty Machowski, comes from a Sovereign Grace church near Philadelphia. Both of these books are Christ-centered and look at every story through the lens of redemption.
The artwork in both books is very different, but very good. Jesus Storybook Bible was illustrated by Jago and features very stylized hand done drawings. Everything is rounded and fun. The colors are slightly muted and the text of the stories flows in with the art. This is particularly beautiful in the rendering of Psalm 23. The artwork in Gospel Story Bible, by A.E. Macha, looks a bit more modern. The colors slightly more vibrant, but the illustrations are limited (by in large) to one page opposite the story on the facing page.
The books are both meant for children, though each has strengths for different age groups. The Jesus Storybook Bible is more poetic in the way that it tells stories. It’s not singsongy like a Dr. Suess book, but it does compact a lot of meaning into a few words. It also spreads the stories out onto multiple pages. This is a big deal for parents of preschoolers. Turning pages is very important. On the other hand, The Gospel Story Bible takes time to explain many of the whys behind the stories. For instance, the story of Jesus washing his disciples feet includes a paragraph on the role of servants. Each of the stories is on a single page with an illustration on the facing page. There is far more to each story when compared to the Jesus Storybook Bible, but no page turning. Overall, the page turning and language of the Jesus Storybook Bible lends itself to preschoolers and the depth of each story in the Gospel Story Bible favors middle elementary school children.
Both of these books are reformed, Christ-centered, and gospel-focused. You can’t go wrong with the content of either.
The Gospel Story Bible is setup in 156 stories with 78 of those coming from each testament. The idea would be to study each story for a week, using the devotionals that correspond to the Bible. This means your family could spend 18 months in the Old and New Testaments. The Jesus Storybook Bible is setup more like a traditional children’s Bible. It includes the “greatest hits” for kids; stories like Jonah, Namaan, and David. It only has 44 lessons, divided evenly between the Old and New Testaments. If you spent a week on each story, you could complete the entire cycle in just under a year.
So what do these two books cost? The Jesus Storybook Bible can be had for around $10 from a variety of online retailers. The Gospel Story Bible is a little pricier, selling for around $20 with the publisher having as good a deal as anyone.
So which of these two great Bibles are best for your family? The simple answer is the one you will read. If you prefer one, great! If you are still looking for something to tip the scales, I would point to the age of your children. If your kids are in preschool, go with the Jesus Storybook Bible. If you have older children, you should consider the Gospel Story Bible.
If you have been reading along with the post last week, you know that my experience with family worship has been a pendulum between big ideals and difficult implementation. I get the feeling that most regular people like us struggle with this. Unless you are a super-parent or have angelic children, family devotions are hard. That probably bears repeating, because it is encouraging to remember that it is a struggle for others.
There is no silver bullet that will make kids sit quietly at night. There is no magic potion which will make your 4 year old engage with you and the Bible each evening. Corralling all the kids before the earliest of bedtimes can be a tough task. Thankfully there is a new resource to help out parents like us. With kids like ours.
Marty Machowski is a pastor who is the author of the Gospel Story Bible. Along with this he has helped to design a 3 year curriculum based on the Gospel Story Bible. Last year New Growth Press released Long Story Short, the Old Testament companion to Old Story New.
Old Story New corresponds to the 78 New Testament stories of the Gospel Story Bible. Each story has 5 evenings worth of lessons (which easily correspond to school-nights) in Old Story New. These nightly lessons are not overly long or complex. Each week contains a sort of rhythm that goes like this:
- Sunday: The story of the week is introduced. There are vivid modern stories and illustrations that help your kids understand the story for the week.
- Monday: There is a short review followed by a chance for your family to dig deeper into the story for the week.
- Tuesday: This lesson always focusses on connecting the story to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Wednesday: This lesson is similar to Tuesday, exploring the passage. But each week there is a prompt for the kids to ask the parents a question about how the story connects to their loves. This is a fantastic exercise.
- Thursday: The final lesson of the week always branches out to the Old Testament to connect the story to the Psalms and Prophets.
Each day also contains questions, with the answers already written in. Additionally, there is a prayer starter every day. This layout and pattern makes it incredibly simple for anyone to begin to have family devotion time with their kids. Even parents who may be young in their faith can use this devotional. It keeps us from accidentally moralizing the stories. By providing answers, it also helps parents stay focussed in pointing their children to Jesus.
Another strength of Old Story New is the connection to the Bible. While the lessons are based in the Gospel Story Bible, the readings each night of from mom and dad’s Bible. This is incredibly important. Most family devotions are either based solely on some sort of children’s Bible, or solely on mom and dad’s Bible. Old Story New is based on the stories out of the companion children’s Bible, but each day has a reading from scripture. This balance is the best part of the devotional. While our children may not understand every word, they can begin at a young age to engage the scriptures. Old Story New gives parents handles for introducing their kids to the Bible.
The book is aimed at elementary aged kids, though there are some helpful tips on adapting it to younger or older children. But it is ideal for a kids in the middle of elementary school (ages 6-10). If your church uses the Gospel Story curriculum, like we do here at Surfside, the devotional is a perfect companion. Students are introduced to the story at church and then through the week look at it again with their parents.
I highly recommend Old Story New for your family. It is an incredible resource and companion to the New Growth Press children’s resources. You can click here to pick up a copy from New Growth Press (cheaper than Amazon!)
Or even better, Get One for Free! Leave a comment here about one of your failures or successes in family devotions; or tell us about the best idea for family worship you have seen. Next Monday, I will randomly select two of the comments and send them a free copy of Old Story New!
Next week, I will be featuring a review of the New Growth Press family devotional called, “Old Story New“. Leading up to that, I thought I would share some of my adventures in family devotions. Earlier this week, I wrote about my first experiences with Family Devotions, you can read about it here.
There is an old Scottish story of a rich young ruler. As he was courting women, he was famous for saying that he had many theories on raising children. Then he got married and started having kids. A few years later a friend asked him how the family was going. The now middle aged Scot replied, “Before I was married I had 4 different theories on raising children. Now I have 4 children and no theories.”
When it comes to family devotions, I sometimes feel like this. I had all kinds of ideas and ideals. I had the “Barcott Template” from seminary. I had a children’s Bible, and a heart full of the best intentions. So about the time our oldest son transitioned to a toddler bed, I decided we would start to read a story from the Jesus Storybook Bible. My two year old was unimpressed. I would try to shorten the stories, but he would still not want to listen. One night I can remember calling him up onto my lap to read our story. He obliged after some light bribery. As I tried to read him the most exciting story I could think of, Jonah and the Whale, he was twisting and squirming. I pressed on, reading the story and holding him a little tighter, encouraging him to sit still. This battle of wills ended in my son head-butting me, breaking my glasses. In half.
So we decided to abandoned the story time model. Instead, we began using the Children’s Catechism to work through each night. At first this was great. Our son was taking to it great. Each night we would review the previous questions and work on the newest question. This was all going fantastic until we got to question 30 or so and our son insisted on going through every question, every night. All of the sudden, our nightly family devotional time was stretching to 20 or 30 minutes. And we were just going through the motions of the avalanche of questions and answers.
O yeah, and one time, my son gave me a flying elbow drop in the middle of question 18.
It sure seemed like every idea my wife and I had for family devotions ended in pain and destruction in the most literal sense. We were at the end of our rope, ready to give up on the idea of family devotions.
Next week, I will be featuring a review of the New Growth Press family devotional called, “Old Story New“. Leading up to that, I thought I would share some of my adventures in family devotions.
While I was in seminary, I had to travel between Tampa and Orlando. This trip made it necessary for me to find somewhere to crash on the nights between classes. I was grateful to my friend Adam and his family for putting me up and putting up with me. Adam had a great family who I grew to love. I learned so much from Adam and his wife, Val, about being a parent. As an only child, I was always a little scared of kids.
With all the slobber, mispronunciation, and blind trust, who wouldn't be scared.
So as I would spend time at Adam and Val's house, I had the chance to watch the way they had family devotions. At exactly 8 every night, their kids (at the time, a 7-year old girl, 4-year old boy, and 2-year old girl) would gather around the couch. All electronics would be turned off and they would have their family devotions together.
I can remember the first few times I saw them gather as a family, I was a little weirded out. The intimacy that I was being let into was not something I was accustomed to.
And yet Adam and Val would gather their remarkably well behaved children to the room. They would read the Bible, work on memory verses, sing songs, and pray together. The kids never acted up. Even Grace, the 2-year old, seemed to actively participate. It was like a magic Jesus utopia of family time. They made it look so easy.
After I got over the awkwardness of watching this all from the sidelines, I resolved that when I had a family, I would do things just like Adam and Val.
I am sure that my memory is selective, but I wanted my families devotion times to be just like theirs. Which was the perfect plan…
…until I had kids of my own.
Tune in later this week to hear about all my failures!
No shock, no surprise here; I am a huge Tampa Bay Rays fan. I have been to a game in every season of their existence, beside 2. And as a Rays fan who lives outside of the Bay Area, I get asked a certain question over and over again.
“Why is the stadium always empty?”
Any time I try to go into all of the details about the situation, people's eyes glaze over. They don't want to hear about the fact that the staduim is in another city, 45 minutes from Tampa. They could care less about the psychology of “crossing the bridge” for Tampa residents. They don't want to hear about camera angles and the price of the seats behind the bullpen. Most of my explanations fall on deaf ears. But since moving to Myrtle Beach, I have found a question that usually makes sense to people. When they ask me about the Rays, I reply with a question of who their NFL team is. They will always reply with the Eagles, Steelers, or Browns. This makes me wonder, “why not the Panthers”. They are quick to explain that they have always been Steelers fans and always will be. Not the local Panthers.
It makes sense. I won't give up the Bucs or Rays. They are my team. In Florida, this isn't just a sports thing, it's a community thing. Check out this article on the “Cincinnati Factor”. The term refers to people who have moved to Florida from Detroit or Toledo or Cincinnati and still maintain their identity as residents of those other cities. I am incredibly proud of my heritage as a 6 generation Tampa native. But I have only met a handful of other people, in my life, who have longterm roots in the Sunshine State. Most folks go back no farther than the '50's.
And so it is no surprise that they are all still Yankee, Tiger, and Reds fans.
I feel the Rays pain as they attempt to create a community of fans from the crowds of people. Because, by and large, the crowds aren't interested in community. They want to be left alone to watch their team on MLB.tv.
The same is true of ministry in tourist towns. As I have been in Myrtle Beach for over 5 years now, I have been amazed at the routine lack of involvement of people in the community and life of the church. This is South Carolina; we are the buckle of the Bible belt. And yet people are more interested in soccer or a good tee-time or going home to see the folks every other weekend. No one is from here and their lack of commitment to this place and to a church has created stunted, immature Christians.
Even the best are more interested in whats going on back in West Virginia or back home in the little town they are from than what is going on here.
The Rays have been smart though. They have been aggressive in pursuing younger fans. They have killer social media programs and great giveaways for kids. It has worked in my case. My boys are being raised Rays fans. The past few years, the crowds at the Rays games have been younger than any other stadium I have been to. But it is going to take time.
The same is true of ministry at the beach. The one thing that I have seen consistently draw people to the church is solid children and youth ministry.
What about you? Does your church have the same problem? How do you overcome people's lack of interest in community and commitment?
There is reason to believe, therefore, that all ignorance of revealed truth, or error respecting it, must be attended with a corresponding defect in the religious exercises of the person.
Archibald Alexander, Thoughts on Religious Experience, xix
Herman Bavinck, with his usual clarity and precision, defines the sacraments this way:
In keeping with this Reformed theology described the sacraments as visible, holy signs and seals instituted by God so that he might make believers understand more clearly and reassure them of the promise and benefits of the covenant of grace, and believers on their part might confess and confirm their faith and love before God, angels, and humankind.
Reformed Dogmatics, Vol 4, p. 473