A few years ago, to my wife’s great delight, her father gave her the family heirloom photo albums. We’re not talking snapshots of Disney World held in vinyl pages. These hundred-year-old photos were carefully bound in two deeply embossed gilded leather albums. Even guests who had parted the pages of these regal books had stood in awe of the history represented in the sepia tone portraits of her great-grandfathers, aunts, and uncles. Some family heirlooms are quite valuable, like a fine antique piece of furniture, yet families wouldn’t think of selling them. They safeguard them to be passed to the next generation.
In the same way, every Christian parent holds another treasure to pass along. It is the most important treasure we steward, one of surpassing value: the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The apostle Paul spoke of the treasure of the gospel in Ephesians 2:6-7, “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”
“Incomparable riches” is the way Paul described the gospel of grace. Is there anything of greater value we have passed along?
Like our family treasures, we can’t take the gospel for granted, but need to safeguard it and deliver it unaltered to the next generation. Just think: God has entrusted us parents with the privilege of passing this most valuable truth to the next generation! The message of salvation through faith alone, in Christ’s atoning sacrifice alone, by sovereign grace alone, cannot be assumed.
A man-centered gospel is always threatening to supplant the cross-centered gospel we read in the Bible. But if we trade Jesus, who bore our sins and received the wrath of God, for a Jesus who is merely a good example, we don’t have the same gospel. If we remove a call to repentance and replace it with an invitation to be God’s friend, we’re not passing on the treasure of the gospel in accordance with the Scriptures.
So we, as parents, must ensure that the gospel we pass on is the authentic diamond we were handed, not a pretty glass imitation. We don’t want to pass on merely the worldly knowledge that will inform their lives; we want to pass on the biblical truth that can transform their lives. Though teachers in school or church can help us, passing on the truth of God’s Word is our unique responsibility as parents.
Few Christian parents would disagree with the importance of passing on the truth of the gospel to their children, yet we live in a busy world where our lives are filled with distractions. Just getting all the tasks of the day checked off our list can leave any parent exhausted. It is easy to see how, though we have a desire to pass on the truth of the gospel, we can’t find the time. Schedules collide, there is homework and yard work and dishes and laundry, the car’s oil should be changed, there are phone calls to make … and before you know it, everyone is getting to bed late again. On top of that, our sinful natures can think of a hundred reasons why any given time is not a good time for family Bible study.
The Bible can seem like a long story, but when you break it down into short devotions, teaching the Bible to your family is easy to do. The goal of my devotional, Long Story Short, is to daily pass on a clear gospel message showing our children how every story in the Bible points forward or back to the gospel of Jesus Christ and God’s story of salvation.
You won’t find a more important focus for a family devotional than a day by day highlighting of the gospel of grace. Why? Simply put, the gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Clever stories and good moral lessons may entertain and even help our children, but the gospel will transform our children. The gospel is deep enough to keep the oldest and wisest parents learning and growing all their lives, yet simple enough to transform the heart of your first grader who has just begun to read.
All you need is a few minutes a day
Contrary to what many believe, daily family Bible study need not take a lot of time. God can use a short, simple family devotion, consistently practiced over time, to yield more fruit in the lives of our children than we realize; and a quick daily devotion is not as easily derailed by our busy schedules. Each day, as the gospel is presented, God is at work.
Our hope in God is to see our children reading their Bibles and having devotions on their own, not because they have to, but because they want to. The truth of God’s Word brings us to Christ and is effective to sustain us and help us grow all of our days. There is simply no greater delight for Christian parents than watching the Spirit of God guiding their children through faith-filled study of God’s Word. No earthly treasure compares.
God’s Word, when hidden in our hearts as children, is used again and again in our lives later on. The Spirit of God will bring it back to our minds to help us in our walk with God and to enable us to encourage others we meet along the way.
Every family can find a few minutes in the daily routine. Some families gather for their devotional at the start of their day; others try the dinnertime approach. As soon as everyone is finished eating, take 10 minutes for family devotions.
The following excerpt is from Long Story Short. All you need to do is read the passage of Scripture for the day, follow that with the short commentary, and then ask the listed questions. Finish it all up by inviting one of your children to pray.
Jacob’s Wrestling Match
Challenge your children one by one to an arm-wrestling competition. With each child apply only as much strength as is needed to keep them from winning. Let each match go long and encourage them to keep trying to win. As they tire, overpower them and win each match. Explain that this week you will learn how Jacob wrestled with God.
Pretend that you are a knight in armor on your way home to your castle. But you have a problem: There is a dragon that lives between you and the castle walls. There is no way to escape the dragon; you will have to confront him. And to make matters worse, the last time you traveled along the dragon’s road you stole some of his treasure, making the dragon very angry.
Now wouldn’t you feel better if two of the strongest knights from the neighboring castles met you along the way and offered to walk along with you? With three knights traveling together, the dragon might not be so quick to fight and might allow you to pass.
Today in our story, Jacob has solved the problem of Laban chasing him, but he has a dragon awaiting him: his brother Esau. Let’s see who he meets along the way to help him.
Read Genesis 32:1-2.
Think about it
With Esau not too far away, Jacob was glad to see the angels! The last he had heard, 15 years before, his brother Esau wanted to kill him. As Jacob traveled closer to home, he knew he would have to deal with his brother. When God told Jacob to leave Laban, God promised to go with him (Genesis 31:3). Now that he saw the angels, Jacob knew God was with him in that place.
Talk about it
What did Jacob say when he saw the angels? (Jacob called the place “God’s camp.”)
How can God’s faithfulness in keeping his promise to Jacob encourage us? (God does not change. He was faithful to Jacob and He will be faithful to us as well. We can trust His promises.)
Can you think of something that can cause us to fear and forget God’s faithfulness? (Parents, first confess your weaknesses and then draw out your children.)
Pray about it
Ask God to help you to trust him anytime you are afraid.
Reaping the harvest
One day my wife, Lois, and I will hand the family photo albums we received from her father down to one of our children and, with them, pass along a portion of our family legacy. That day will be sweeter indeed if the life of the child we pass them to has been transformed by the gospel. Though we know we can’t save our children, we can keep them soaking in the gospel. And as we do, we have this confidence: God is able and willing to save them.
Cling with faith to this hope, that through the gospel proclamation in your home, the Holy Spirit will regenerate the hearts of your children and lead them to faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone!
Adapted from Long Story Short © 2010 by Marty Machowski. Used by permission of New Growth Press. Excerpt may not be reproduced without the express written permission of New Growth Press.