Wednesday, November 13, 2013

4 Kids Books That Help Me Follow Jesus Better

Unless you have young kids or teach them, you are unlikely to browse the children's section of your library or bookstore. Some people may assume children's books are childish, simplistic, and below them. They couldn't be more wrong. Kingdom lessons come in unexpected places. The simplicity of these stories shrouds weighty truths.

Jesus said that unless you become like a child, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3). Perhaps that's why children's stories can be so powerful. They let us strip away our pretense and see the world as God intends. Like children. Like our Father, who as Chesterton says "is younger than us." For those of us who have sinned and grown old, children's stories can be our bridge to the kingdom.

My list contains books from a variety of reading levels. They are all books found in children's sections. Despite there apparent simplicity, all these books have had an impact on the way I live my life. All these books that have moved me to follow Jesus better. Maybe they can help you. 

Loser by Jerry Spinelli

Donald Zinkoff is that unflappably friendly kid. He isn't good at sports or school work. He doesn't care when people laugh at him. It makes him happy that others are laughing. In fact, Zinkoff never seems to hold any regard for himself or his preferences. He will do whatever it takes to help others and make them happy. But this seldom wears him down. Zinkoff, despite his label expresses pure joy again and again. 

Seldom have I seen a character that so exemplified the kingdom of God where the last are first and servants are the greatest. I don't want to give away too much, but one of the best things about Loser is how the hero is not given the hero's reception that we often expect at the end of a story. Sacrificial love doesn't earn Zinkoff the respect of most of his peers. But the love he exemplifies will capture your heart and your holy imagination.

The Teddy Bear by David McPhail

The boy and the teddy bear are inseparable.  But one fateful day, the boy looses his favorite teddy bear at a diner. The bear is thrown away and recovered by a homeless man. The man finds great comfort in the bear, taking him everywhere as he treks the lonely streets of the city. The man and the bear are now inseparable.  A chance encounter between the man and boy will leave few eyes dry. 

The Teddy Bear exemplifies sacrificial love in a way that is applicable to children.  It teaches us the value of people versus the value of things. It also introduces homelessness with compassion and humanity. Fitting for followers of a homeless King.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Most of you have probably read this one at some point in your life. The tree gives something to the boy, piece by piece  until there is nothing left but a stump. "And the tree was happy."

There are two main themes that reverberate throughout this simple tale. They are two sides of the same coin. First, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." (Acts 20:35) The tree finds joy in sacrificially giving to the boy. Why do we so often deny ourselves this joy. Secondly, the things we think will make us happy are temporary. The boy always needs something else to maintain his happiness. Think about it. Who has more joy? The boy who gets what he wants, or the tree who gives it to him? 

"And the tree was happy."

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

The Chronicles of Narnia are purposefully pregnant with spiritual themes. They are wonderful teaching tools for children and adults alike. The Voyage in particular brings about two wonderfully interwoven themes. Transformation, and Adventure.

The heart of this story is about a boy whose name was Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. Eustace is introduced as an obnoxious know-it-all, the kid that gets on everyone's nerves. Eustace is transfixed on himself and his problems. In his mind everyone is against him, and so he subsequently is against everyone.  When Eustace and his cousins are magically transported to Narnia, Eustace misses the adventure and wonder the other kids experience.  He spends all his time complaining and devising a way to get home.

Half way through the story, Eustace is brought face to face with his true self, when he is physically transformed into the dragon that long resided in his heart. But the beauty of this story is Eustaces transformation. Aslan, the lion that represents Jesus shows Eustace his inability to remove his dragon skin, and then removes it for him, washing him and returning him to his human form. 

Then comes the adventure. And Eustace and his companions see plenty of it. The story shows us Eustace on better days and his worse as he and his companions journey ever closer to Aslan's country.

Becoming like Jesus begins with something we can't do. It begins with our absolute dependence on God to kill the old man and make us new. But it is also a lifelong process. It is a struggle filled with both good and bad days.  But the journey, once begun is an incredible adventure. Don't miss out on the adventure of a life of following Jesus.