Five Treasures I Took Away from VBS

Okay, sue me. I know I’m two months late. This post was 95% done a long time ago but I never got around to posting it. Tis better late than never, and it was helpful for me to read through my thoughts again especially since the event has long passed. It’s sad how many of these thoughts seem so distant though it has only been two months. I’m going to make it a point to consider these treasures more often. This post was actually fairly longer, but part of it loses its effect being posted late … Hopefully some of these things can still be encouraging to you!
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I will be the first to confess that there are times in my private thinking when I’m not a fan of the whole vacation bible school (VBS) program. Much of my skeptical outlook was founded on the old belief many Puritans held concerning Sunday school, that parents would neglect much of their responsibility to teach and raise up godly children because the task seemingly transferred to the church. My concern was that parents would defer to church-run programs to proclaim the Gospel and encourage Bible study rather than do it themselves. To an extent that describes much of my childhood and it’s becoming increasingly apparent to me that where I am now can only be explained as a work of God. Then there’s that whole alter call shenanigan. I’m definitely not a fan. Yeah, I know I wrote a mini-tirade last year concerning the whole thing and not surprisingly, I carried much of my pessimistic baggage into this year.

However I am overjoyed God works in ways that I could not foresee nor predict. God took His word and His truth and absolutely destroyed me through my role in VBS this year (which ironically, was the same as last year). I was asked to be one of three guys to share the Gospel on day four of the program to the children and so I spent much of the week preparing for one of the most important events during the entire event. A great deal of my learning was derived from this preparatory time and God would constantly be revealing things to me throughout the week leading to an emotional end. The theme of this year’s VBS was a pirate theme, hence the title.

To the Children I Became as a Child

The title of this point finds its basis in I Corinthians 9 where Paul discusses his liberty while sharing the Gospel. He speaks of the adjustments he makes when he preaches to different audiences. I felt as if I could relate to Paul in the sense that the discussion and tactics might constantly change but the message and core concepts remains unchanging. Paul notes three different audiences in this passage, and as I reminded myself of the joy he had while proclaiming the good news, I added a fourth: second through fourth grade kids.

It’s always a pleasure to serve alongside my brothers Ryan Chang and Zechariah Lee and we already had a year of experience under our belts but we still found this to be a rather difficult and nerve-racking task. There are so many things to consider, namely vocabulary and examples. I don’t find myself to be articulate and I can relate to I Corinthians 1 when Paul says that God has chosen the foolish and the weak to bring about His kingdom, but I didn’t know I knew so many “big words.” Sometimes I was ignorant to knowing that some words that I had changed thinking they were simpler were still big words. I learned the necessity of hand motions and audience participation along with useful tips like drawing on the board and object lessons. It was basically a “Know-Your-Audience 101,” but man, it’s hard changing on the fly.

More importantly I was forced to review the entire Gospel and discern what to put in and keep out in my limited time and then translate it into elementary language using elementary examples. I’ve always been under the strong impression that one doesn’t truly have a grasp on anything until they are able to convey it in words to a peer and as of this week, I believe that there is a level of mastery if you’re able to convey what you know to a child. To tread the line of simplicity without losing significance is a difficult path to walk. I had to examine the purpose of the cross along with the various associated doctrines and bring it down yet maintain its majesty. It was a humbling and incredibly enriching experience. I was forced to look at much of my Christian jargon and define it for a child. It was an excellent exercise.

This might be somewhat of a tangent, but throughout this entire study, I realized the importance of cultural examples and illustrations, even in the Bible, to highlight different aspects of Calvary. I remember reading in the Cross of Christ by John Stott how imagery is used to illustrate four of many key truths in the Bible. The word propitiation can be seen in the abundance of temple and shrine imagery. Redemption takes us to the business of the market place (remember Hosea?). Justification, perhaps the most famous of the four, escorts us into a court of law. Lastly, reconciliation and adoption reminds us of experiences found in the home and family. We also know Jesus to be the good shepherd and the true vine among many other titles. The most obvious function of example for those who had ears to hear was the parables. I can relate most to justification as a political science major and reconciliation because I have a family. Most Christians can probably not relate with many of these examples, but few are sure to hit home and convey truth in a powerful way. Is not Christ the groom of the church? The marriage motif provides an extremely vivid picture of Christ and the church and is something that many Christians are sure to take part in and notice the parallels. While elementary kids are not likely to understand many of the Biblical examples, I found myself constantly talking about treasure in relation to pirates and even recess made its way into the presentation.

On a side note, I have a lot of respect for Zechariah… who had to share with the Pre-Kindergarten through first grade kids. Ryan had the chance to share with the fifth and sixth grade and well… I’ve always really liked the guy. Awesome trio and awesome partners to work with!

Core Issues

One thought that was constantly running through my mind the day I had to present was, “Geico says 15 minutes can save me 15 percent on car insurance and I have 15 minutes to faithfully present life giving and life altering truth. What a difference in the use of 15 minutes and how absurd is it that I have so little time!” I mentioned earlier that I was not willing to sacrifice content while rearranging the presentation and part of preparing forced me to see what is absolutely essential to a basic understanding of the Gospel. As I grow in the knowledge of salvation by His grace, it becomes harder to discern what is foundational because everything seems to be important! This forced me to go back to the Bible to see what was absolutely essential to the presentation seeing I had been allotted so little time. I needed to know what I needed to sow the seed in the hearts of children.

I’ve Only Got Four Minutes to Save the World

This point piggy-backs off the previous one about identifying core issues due to the lack of time. Perhaps this detail reveals my ignorance in where the real burden of encouraging, proclaiming, and preaching the Word of God is found, but one of (if not the hardest, apart from conveying the entirety and the immense gravity of Biblical truth) the hardest things for me is racing against the clock. As I mentioned earlier, I only had between fifteen minutes to convey and accomplish what I perceived to be a monumental task. This presentation isn’t the only place where I’ve felt time breathing down my neck. Just recently I was able to speak at the college group back at home from John 18, and I had to cut a couple small things out and summarize rather than read passages in an effort to save time… and it still went over an hour. Occasions like study break and senior banquet only allotted 15 to 20 minutes, but those who attended knew I broke those barriers anyway. I remember my dry run for last year’s message at CGBC went for 55 minutes when I was only allotted 35. My introduction was 15 minutes long, which was as long as my Gospel presentation! Time has been my enemy since high school back when I occasionally spoke at the Christian club on campus.  I had to identify what was important and make do with the time I had been given because there’s always so much to say on any given topic.

This application finds itself at the center of how I live. Everything I am learning somehow fits with the notion of how I spend my time, whether studies through Philippians, Hebrews, or John. I realize that in the sovereignty of God, he has numbered my days and has given me a specific amount of time on this earth to use to His glory. Unlike my Gospel presentation at VBS, I have no idea how much time I have left but I know that the time I have been given is precious and must be spent wisely. What I do know is that God has given His people an incredible task that affects people’s eternal futures within the confines of finite and impending death. Jonathan Edwards says this concerning time: “Time is so short, and the work which we have to do in it is so great, that we have none of it to spare.” Those who were at CCM study break or who are in occasional fellowship with me know that the biblical basis for time has shattered previous notions of what God expects from me as a Bible believing Christian. I don’t want to elaborate too much because this could easily be a twenty page paper, but preparing for Gospel night reinforced the central truth that God has pounded into me this year.

As with the presentation, there are many possible things I could have included in my message that are undisputedly good… but are they necessary? I had to examine what was important to God in the short time I had for there was no time to waste. God is asking me to do the same with my summer, much less my life. I am reminded of what Steve Lawson said in his message about time which was founded on Edward’s sermon so paraphrasing him: “You do not have enough time to live for what is good. You do not enough time to live for what is better. You only have enough time to live for what is best…” What does the Bible say is central to the Christian life and how often am I distracted with trivial notions that do not profit the soul? If there is no Biblical foundation for certain a thing I like or do which may not be inherently wrong in itself, what business do I have with such vain affairs? They may be good, but are they best? The competing affections do not have to be bad versus good, but better versus best. Maybe if I lived for ten thousand years I could afford the time to play videogames and watch an television series “x”, but alas I cannot extend my confidence to even tomorrow. While I am not an absolute stickler on everything because there is a leisure and rest principle in scripture, I want to be able to discern what is good for me.

The Bible describes life as such a short endeavor – surely I can be a better steward of what God has given me! We must test everything to see if it is good. These are things I am constantly trying to identify in my life, as to how I can redeem the time for the days are evil. May God further impress upon me the seriousness of Psalm 90:12 which has governed my life as much as core passages like Proverbs 25:25 and Romans 3:21-26. May I present a heart of wisdom that fears the Lord!

Why’d You have to Go and Make Things so Complicated?

At the end of the week, many of my prior notions of Gospel preaching had been defeated. I used to think I needed at least two hours with someone to faithfully convey what the Scriptures says about what one must believe to come to saving faith. In a certain sense, an abundance of time would be helpful (cough PTL for discipleship), but the Gospel can be conveyed in its entirety at its core in less than 15 minutes. No matter how much time and no matter how articulate, one will never be able to convey the wonders of the cross. This reminds me of the final verse of one of my favorite songs, “The Love of God.”

If we with ink the ocean fill,
and were the skies of parchment made,
If every stalk on earth a quill
and every man a scribe by trade.
To write the love of God above
would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
though stretched from sky to sky!

I heard an intriguing quote during the 05’ Panel Discussion for Resolved from John MacArthur saying, “The heat that melts the wax hardens the clay.” The preaching of the Gospel, whether to self, out of self, or from another will either humble and amaze you or dull your ears and give rise to callousness. There is no other alternative. I hadn’t realized how brazen my heart had become to Gospel preaching until this week. It had slowly begun to resemble some abstract theory rather than heart-warming truth. Now I will be the first to say that proper doctrine is absolutely necessary and foundational to Christian living, but like the church of Ephesus in Revelations, I had lost my first love. Things I’ve been reading in Cross of Christ by John Stott should make me leap for joy, you know, at least smile. The Thursday I presented I rehearsed the Gospel in the simplest way I could recall at least six times, and it dawned on me that my knowledge was not affecting my heart. I was not reading for the right purpose and I was missing out big time on small truths for my soul to gaze at in wonder. It was oddly enough the simplicity of the Gospel that struck me across the face and rekindled the fire that “melts the wax.”

To have child-like faith requires you to think like a child. It is one thing to observe certain things in the life of a child like my sister, but it’s another to sit down and consider the dependence we are to have on God as if we are children. There is a distinction in my estimation of child-like and childish thinking and we should guard against the latter. God brought me back to a basic understanding that required child-like faith, not one wholly dependent on growing in the knowledge of the Lord but one that clings to the truth I hold to be true. I believe one can maintain such a posture before the Lord while growing in doctrine, but it was important for me to remind myself of what I said to the children, that a relationship with God is the greatest treasure and Jesus Christ has shown us the way despite our sin! Any learning and any action ought to overflow of this truth.

Okay that’s really four … I actually have two more gems, but I don’t feel like typing everything up. Ask me if you’d like!

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