We have a responsibility to do this. We cannot just pawn it off on teachers, or Sunday school teachers, or our pastor, or a Christian school, if we have one. They can help, but it is our primary job to raise our children in the Lord.
Happy Father’s Day to all of you dads out there. This is my sixth Father’s Day being a father from the beginning. I was a step dad before that, but it’s not quite the same as when you start from the beginning. In my case, both of our girls were adopted from crisis pregnancies and were brought home when they were two days old. That’s pretty much starting from the beginning, and I realize the grave responsibility it is to be entrusted with their physical, emotional, and spiritual care.
Last weekend I was in Ottawa, Canada, speaking at the Metropolitan Bible Church. While I was there I met a number of fellows who were dads, and we spent an afternoon at a barbecue, talking about raising our children in the Lord. We have a responsibility to do this. We cannot just pawn it off on teachers, or Sunday school teachers, or our pastor, or a Christian school, if we have one. They can help, but it is our primary job to raise our children in the Lord. This morning our church played a video where a nine-year old narrator said, “We’re Watching You, Dad.” They’re watching how we live our lives, as well as what we teach them about the Lord, and there needs to be consistency in our lives.
I think part of our frustration as parents is figuring out how to make the contribution of theological content into the lives of our children. At the barbeque, I discussed a couple of different things that my wife and I are doing with our kids to accomplish that goal. Nothing particularly fancy, but we’re making an effort in addition to going to church, saying grace, and giving thanks. We are trying to invest theological content in very specific ways.
We speak and pray in an extemporaneous way. We don’t recite the same prayer every day, because we want to have genuine, from-the-heart communication to God that the kids can see and understand.
We also have Annabeth, who is five, memorizing. She loves to do this. Kids like memorizing. It’s a game to them. They have fun doing it, and they do it very well. So we began on occasion, not every night, having some kind of recitation at the end of the meal. It might be the Lord’s Prayer, Psalm 1, or the the 23rd Psalm. We have the text printed out so that there’s a consistency in the wording.
If you simply recite the passage with your kids, they will learn it before long. In fact, Annabeth often wants to do the recitation herself, and so she will try. If she’s missing a word, I have the cheat sheet in front of me and I can help her... I don’t think she has a lot of theological insight but she’s doing something that is spiritual in nature, though she doesn’t realize it yet. She’s just participating. That’s the way kids learn anything, even language. It’s nonsense to them. It’s sounds. And they go along and practice, and they begin to associate and understand as time goes on.
So now Annabeth has got most of Psalm 1 memorized. She knows the 23rd Psalm pretty well. We have to review it, and that’s an important part. She can recite the Lord’s Prayer. We even sing the Lord’s Prayer on occasion. It’s two or three minutes after dinner. It’s closing the family time together around the meal with some spiritual reflection. We don’t do it every single night. This is a way we’re investing ourselves in the lives of our children. And as Annabeth memorizes these things, they become part of her, and later on, as she is developmentally capable of understanding, she will apply the deeper spiritual understanding to that which she already has memorized.
There’s another thing that I’m doing to teach my kids theological content that is more of a guideline than a program. I think a lot of times people like me, and maybe you, want to have a program. Sometimes we think if we don’t have a program we’re not being good parents. But even if you don’t have a program, it’s good to have a plan. One thing I’ve been using is a concept that I’ve been developing the last few years. I call it Credo, “I believe.” Credo consists of five words that capture the entire Christian worldview, and I think when I give you the words, you’ll see the relationship between them. Here they are: God, Man, Jesus, Cross, Resurrection. And here, by “resurrection” I mean the final resurrection to reward or judgment, the eschatological last things. I don’t mean any particular understanding of Jesus’ second coming; I mean that there will be a final day of reckoning. History is moving towards that point.
These five words capture the essence of the story of Christianity, starting with God, then man, then the fall. Then God invading the world—the physical world—by becoming a man Himself as part of a plan to die on a cross to rescue man, so that at the final resurrection they will be numbered among the sheep and not among the goats. This is the Christian story in five words.
I find that these five words are very helpful for capturing the big picture, of the structure of reality. Each one of these points has just two sub-points under it, which are easy to keep track of, and which represent the plan that I have for investing spiritual truth in the lives of my children.
Let’s start with “God.” Why start with God? Because He is the beginning of the Christian story. Our story begins with these words: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” “In the beginning, God.” He is what grounds reality. God exists, and He is in charge. Since He created the heavens and the earth, He owns them. He is sovereign over them. He is the King, and that is His domain. And in virtue of having created it, He has ownership, and He’s in charge. A lot more could be said about this, but these are the two big points that I want my girls to get: There is a God, and He is in charge.
I look for opportunities to reinforce those two ideas in age-appropriate ways throughout the day. I mention, for example, to my daughter, that even Papa is under God’s authority. I’m the captain of our ship. My wife is the co-captain. The girls know they are the crew members. They are participants in our family, but Papa has a captain, too. Mama and Papa answer to a different captain, and that is God. Everyone answers to God because He’s in charge.
When it comes to man, the second point, we also have two sub-points. When I talk about man I want my girls to understand that, as Francis Schaeffer put it, man is both noble, and he is cruel. Now, I don’t use those words, necessarily, but I try to communicate the substance of that idea.
First, that there is something special about man, he is not just an animal. He is different from all the animals. Yesterday, Annabeth was repeating back to me what I had said to her in the past. She said, “We’re humans, and humans are special. We’re not like all the rest of the animals.” That was great as far as it went. Then she said, “We walk on two feet.” I said, “Well, honey, that isn’t exactly what makes us special.” She said, “Yeah, that’s right, because kangaroos are on two feet. That’s how they hop around.” I replied, “Bears can stand on two feet, and orangutans, and gorillas, and chimpanzees run on two feet, so that isn’t entirely unique. What makes us unique,” I said, “is not our physical body, but our souls. They’re made in the image of God.” Now, Annabeth doesn’t completely conceptualize what an invisible soul is, but we’re working on it. We’re laying the foundation.
So man is noble. He is very special. But there’s also something wrong with him. He is broken. He is bad. Some people don’t like to tell their kids they’re bad, but if they don’t, they’re not telling them the truth, because your kids are bad. Somebody said to me, “Oh, your little girls are like angels.” I said, “You’re right: fallen angels.” They are angelic after a fashion. They’re noble, made in God’s image. They are wonderful in many ways, but they’re fallen.
We must not lose sight of this. It goes to the self-image question. I do not want my children to have a good self-image. I want my children to have an accurate self-image. I don’t want them feeling good about being bad. I want them feeling good about the good things, and feeling bad about the bad things. I want them to feel good about being made in the image of God. I want them to feel bad about being fallen, because it’s only when they feel bad about that, when they realize the gravity of their own sin, that they will turn to the only One that can rescue them: God in the person of Jesus.
The third thing I teach them about the Christian reality is Jesus, who is the God-man. I explain who Jesus was and what He came to do. Those are the two sub-points for this third point. I want our girls to understand that Jesus is God and He’s a man. Annabeth does. She hasn’t figured out the conceptual philosophic challenges of that concept, but that’s all right. Even the first-century Christians didn’t work that through. They just knew that Jesus was the God-man. He was a real human being, but He was God. And they treated Him as such, and referred to Him as such. When she understands that foundational piece, and that’s built in well, then we can discuss the philosophical nuances. I explain that what He came to do was to seek and to save that which was lost. And, why did He need to save us? Because man is cruel and fallen. See how it all ties in?
Whenever I have an opportunity, I reinforce the features of Jesus, who He was and what He came to do. First and foremost, He came to give his life as a ransom for many. Annabeth asked me one day whether Mommy believed in God, or whether Eva believed in God. I said Mommy did and Eva didn’t, because Eva doesn’t know that well enough. She’s only two and a half. But I underscored the fact that believing in God is important because God exists and He’s in charge. We must also trust in what God has done for us.
This leads us to the next point: God, Man, Jesus, the Cross. It segues nicely from what Jesus came to do. If He came to seek and to save that which was lost, how did He do it? The two sub-points to remember under the Crossare: Jesus died for us, that is, He died in our place, and we have to trust Him. Some of you might recognize that idea as substitutionary atonement. Kids don’t understand that, but they will understand eventually that Jesus took the punishment for us. I want to build that foundation. But it’s not enough to know that He took the punishment. It’s not enough to believe in God. We also have to trust in Him. When we trust Him, then the forgiveness that Jesus offers us becomes ours.
The final point is the resurrection. I want my kids to know that there is going to be a final day of reckoning. There are two sub-points to the idea of the final resurrection as well. They’re called Heaven and Hell. I want the girls to know that those who trust Jesus will meet again in Heaven. We’ve had some conversations about this because my father-in-law and my father are both in Heaven. I explain to both of the girls that their grandfathers are with Jesus, and they’ll be able to meet them again. But not everyone will go there. There are no dogs in heaven, for example. There are no animals, as far as I know, because heaven is made for human beings, because human beings are special. Then we’re back to the second point again and we reinforce that. But there’s also a place of judgment and punishment, and this is where people go who have not been forgiven.
So there’s my plan to teach my kids the truths of God’s Kingdom. It’s not a program. We don’t sit down once a week for an hour and go through a little bit of the curriculum, but I have this plan in my mind: God, Man, Jesus, the Cross,and the Resurrection. God exists and He’s in charge. Man is noble and cruel. What’s important about Jesus is who He was-God-man-and that He came to save. He did that by dying on a cross for us, and we have to put our trust in Him. And that will make a difference in the final resurrection—whether we go to Heaven and live with God in friendship forever, or we are banished from His presence forever.
That’s my plan. I’ve made my plan, and I’m working my plan. And it has been helping my family a lot. I think you may find it helpful, as well, as you work to invest your spiritual convictions in the lives of your children.