Two things to remember as you share your faith with your kids

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If I could change just two things about the way we share our faith with our kids, I would reject more coercive methods in favor of those that cultivate their curiosity, and I would worry less about answering every question and focus more on simply telling the story well.

Less heavy-handed sales pitch, more invitation to explore. Less apologetics, more narrative. I’m increasingly convinced this is the way to engage ours kids’ hearts and imaginations with the gospel.

Recently, my publisher filmed a couple videos for my book, The Story of King Jesus, in which I talk more about these two points and how they can shape the way we pass on our faith…

1. Nurture their spiritual curiosity instead of force-feeding them answers.

2. Your job is not to have all the answers; it’s to tell them the story.

Learn more about The Story of King Jesus here.

In which you get to see me on video talking about my kids’ book…

A few weeks ago, my publisher, David C Cook, shot a few videos of me talking about why I wrote my book and how we can tell a better gospel story for our kids.

Here are the first two…

On why I wrote The Story of King Jesus…

On treating Bible stories as if they were isolated moral fables (and why we should read Scripture as a single story)…

Watch for a few more of these videos in the weeks ahead!

To learn more about The Story of King Jesus go here.

When our kids are the ones sharing the gospel with us

My daughter has asked me to read The Story of King Jesus a few dozen times since we got our first copy. She can’t read yet, but she already knows most of it by heart.

These days, my book doesn’t make the bedtime rotation quite as often as it used to, but it still shows up every now and then. Except now, I barely read any of it to her.

She’s the one telling me the story.

(Yes, she is hamming it up for the camera.)

What if our kids knew the story of Jesus so well, they were the ones telling it to us? Imagine how it might change our approach to spiritual formation if even 4-year-olds knew the complete story—not just the fragmented, piecemeal, “pray this prayer so you can go to heaven when you die” version.

We have a tendency to oversimplify the gospel, reducing it to “four spiritual laws” or a handful of verses from Romans, because we’re worried our kids can’t handle any more than that.

I think we’re wrong.

I think our kids are up for the whole story. I think they’re up for more than we realize.

They’re so up for it, in fact, that pretty soon they’ll be the ones telling the story to us—way better than we ever thought possible.

Telling the story well: God’s good world

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About this series: I believe “getting the gospel right” means telling the story well. This idea inspired me as I wrote my book for kids, The Story of King Jesus.  In this series, I’m sharing a few aspects of the story that I believe are key to telling it well. 

God made the very first people
so he could share his home with them. 

He gave them a job to do:
take care of his good world. 

                                    – from The Story of King Jesus

Last year, we bought a kids’ worship album for the car. My daughter wants to listen to it ALL the time. She knows every song by heart—including the popular Hillsong Anthem, “Forever Reign,” which opens with the line, “You are good, you are good / when there’s nothing good in me…”

Let me tell you, there’s something jarring about hearing your 4-year-old daughter sing, “There is nothing good in me.”

Yet when it comes to the gospel, that’s how we typically start, with the idea that our sin defines our whole identity. It’s the first letter of the Reformed mnemonic, TULIP. Total depravity. It’s the first way station on the “Romans Road” plan of salvation. For all have sinned and fall short.

But that’s not where our story begins.

Our story begins in Genesis 1, not Genesis 3. And, yes, it matters where we begin.

In Genesis 1, with each successive act of creation, God delights in the inherent goodness of what he’s made. On the sixth day, God surveys everything and sees that it’s not just good, it’s very good. Seven times God sees that it’s good—which, for the discerning Jewish reader, signaled something. The number seven signaled completion. In Genesis, it signaled the complete, utter goodness of God’s creation.

That includes us, by the way. Whatever else may be true about us, God made us good.

Obviously, a lot happened after Genesis 1. But why do we skip this part of the story when sharing the gospel? Why do we bypass Genesis 1 and go straight to Genesis 3?

Is it because we’re afraid of thinking too highly of ourselves by saying that God made us “good”? Is it because we think our salvation depends on our willingness to grovel, to confess utter worthlessness before a reluctantly forgiving God?

Some Christians seem to almost revel in their portrait of human depravity, as if trying to outdo one another in capturing the wretchedness of our natural state—as if thinking the more we beat ourselves down, the more God will somehow be lifted up.

Except it’s not our natural state, and acting as if it is actually leads to a diminished view of God. In Genesis 1, we see that we are good—not because of anything we did, but because God made us that way. Our goodness is not something we came to on our own; it’s a gift. It’s the very first gift, the very first act of grace.

In God’s story, grace precedes sin.

—//—

Starting with the world as God made it also helps us to see where the story is going.

If God made the world good, then he can make it good again.

If God made the world good, then salvation—whatever else it may entail—is going to involve this world, its rescue, its remaking.

If God made the world good, then it changes how we understand our role as citizens of his kingdom. To return to God—to renounce sin and exile—is to return to our original mission: to take care of God’s good world.

If God made the world good, then our salvation is not from this world; it’s for this world.

Of course, the story doesn’t stop at Genesis 1, and neither should we. We cannot skip right over Genesis 3. We should not underestimate its impact on the rest of the story. To paraphrase N.T. Wright, we cannot whistle in the face of darkness when confronted with Hiroshima or Auschwitz… or (we might add) Ferguson. Guantanamo. Bhopal. ISIS.

The darkness is real. Our sin is real. It’s why the world needs saving.

But telling the story well means starting in Genesis 1, not Genesis 3. God made the world good, and he is making it good again.

This is where we should begin when sharing the story with our kids.

Next up: Making the world right and good again…

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The Story of King Jesus: After Easter

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God gave us the king we needed.

Our king gave us a job to do:
love each other with all we’ve got.
That’s how we show God’s love to everyone else.

                                    – from The Story of King Jesus

(It really is that simple.)

The Story of King Jesus: Easter Sunday

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Then God did something wonderful.

The same God who made the world,
rescued Israel, and sent Jesus—
he did the most wonderful, surprising thing of all.

God raised Jesus from the dead.

But Jesus didn’t just rise from the dead;
he defeated death
so it wouldn’t have power over us any longer.

Jesus made it possible for us to be God’s people again.
He made it possible for us to live the way God wants.

                                    – from The Story of King Jesus

The Story of King Jesus: Holy Saturday

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The powerful people thought they had won.
They thought they had beaten God’s chosen one.
They thought they had stopped Jesus
from becoming king.

But there was something they didn’t understand:
Jesus didn’t have to die.

Jesus chose to die
for the powerful people
and for the very first people
and for all of us too.

Jesus, the one true king, died in our place.
He died to make the world right and good again.

But no one understood.

                                    – from The Story of King Jesus

Continued tomorrow…

The Story of King Jesus: Good Friday

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Jesus did good things everywhere he went.
He healed the sick. He fed the hungry.
He rescued people from all sorts of problems.

Jesus did everything God wanted.

But some people still didn’t want to do things God’s way.
They didn’t want Jesus to be their king.
They wanted to be in charge for themselves.

So one day, some powerful people decided to stop Jesus
before he could take away their power.

They arrested Jesus. They took off his clothes.
They nailed him to a wooden cross
and watched him die.

Jesus never fought back. He never raised a sword.
He never even raised a finger.

                                    – from The Story of King Jesus

Continued tomorrow…

Passing on our faith like Moses

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Today I’m writing for More to Life Magazine about how the Israelites shared their faith, how it can shape the way we share our faith with our kids, and how it inspired my book, The Story of King Jesus.

—//—

Last year, my daughter turned four. As a parent, I feel the same burden many Christian parents feel: I want to pass my faith to my children. I want my daughter to know Christ. I want her to walk with him for the rest of her life.

But I also know the odds are against her.

Research shows that a majority of young people who grow up in church disconnect from their faith or their church—or both—later in life (source: Barna). Let that sink in: more than half of those who make a decision for Christ as children will exhibit no meaningful sign of it by the time they reach adulthood.

It’s not for a lack of effort on our part. Over the years, we’ve come up with a host of tools to help us share the gospel—the Sinner’s Prayer, Four Spiritual Laws, the Romans Road…

Anyone remember the Wordless Book—or its relatively more recent incarnation, the Wordless Bracelet?

But our tools and methods for passing on our faith are failing us. More importantly, they’re failing our children.

So what do we do? The answer might just be closer than we think…

Read the rest at More to Life Magazine.

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Telling the story well: “God made the world to be his home”

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About this series: As I shared in the introductory post, I believe “getting the gospel right” means telling the story well. This is what inspired me to write my book for kids, The Story of King Jesus. Over the next few posts, I want to share a few aspects of this story that I believe are key to telling it well. 

It all began with God.

God made everything you can see.
(And even things you can’t see!)

God made the world to be his home.

                                    – from The Story of King Jesus

Growing up, I thought this world was doomed.

Like many Christians, I thought it was destined for the furnace. I looked forward to the day when I would be evacuated from this world, along with my fellow believers, and ushered into an ethereal paradise.

Actually, I wasn’t looking forward to it all that much. As a teenager I would ask God to delay his return long enough for me to experience what life has to offer: getting married, having a family… OK, that’s a pretty noble way of describing what it was I didn’t want to miss out on.

Then I would beat myself up for praying this way, for treasuring “worldly” things over “spiritual” things. Maybe I didn’t deserve that one-way ticket to heaven after all.

My gospel was mainly about escaping this world.

I had the end hope of the gospel wrong because I didn’t understand how the story began. My gospel began with the world gone wrong—and therefore a world not worth saving—not the world as God made it.

If we understood how our story begins, we’ll end up with a very different view of where it’s going. (Plus I could’ve  saved myself a lot of needless teenage guilt.)

So let’s go back to the beginning.

Many of us read Genesis 1 with an eye toward the mechanics of creation. But the biblical origin story is far more interested in the why of creation than the how.

Genesis 1 depicts God giving order and purpose to creation. The land is “good” not simply because it’s there, but because it produces vegetation. The stars, sun, and moon are “good” not simply because they’re there, but because they help mark sacred times, days, and years. They give light to the earth.

Created elements are introduced in order of increasing complexity and importance. Vegetation, then animals, then people. And then it stops. Chapter 1 comes to a close at day 6, with human beings seemingly the pinnacle of God’s creative work.

Except the story continues into the first few lines of chapter 2, which briefly mentions day 7 before turning to a second account of creation. But day 7 is more than an epilogue to the previous story. Remember, things have been moving in increasing order of importance, which means day 7 is the whole point of the story. The seventh day is the day God “blessed” and “made holy,” not days 1-6. The seventh day is what it’s all about.

The seventh day is when God rests—and that is the high point of creation.

Observing the parallels between Genesis and other ancient creation stories, Old Testament scholar John Walton notes that creation was typically followed by divine rest. In these stories, deities always rested in temples.

“Rest” in this case was not the cessation of activity but the beginning of something. It was like a king taking his seat on the throne after his coronation. The hard work of becoming king was done, but the even greater work of ruling was yet before him.

However, there was one crucial difference between Genesis and these other stories: other deities needed someone to build a temple for them. Their houses were crafted by human hands. Not so with God and his temple, to the apostle Paul later declared. God doesn’t need anyone to build him a temple because he’s already built one.

Where is God’s temple in the Genesis story? Where does God rest?

It’s all around us. The cosmos, heaven and earth, is God’s temple.

“Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool,” God declares through the prophet Isaiah. Throne, footstool… these were temple artifacts. This is temple language.

In other words, God made the world to be his home, his temple. Then he invited us to share it with him.

(If anyone says the Old Testament is where we find law and the New Testament is where we find grace, remember what God did at the beginning when he invited us to share his home—his world, his temple—with him.)

This changes how we understand the gospel.

This changes the trajectory, the end goal, of the gospel: it’s about God dwelling with us again.

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We see it over and again throughout the story. First, in the primeval garden, where God walks in the garden, his temple, in the cool of the day. Humans are exiled from the garden after the fall, but in some ways it’s as much an exile for God as it is for us. God’s creation—his very home—is turned against him. Heaven and earth are temporarily severed from each other. But God won’t give up on his creation.

God keeps coming back to earth—first to dwell in buildings made by Israelite hands. Initially he occupies a portable tabernacle in the wilderness. Later his presence fills their temple in Jerusalem. In Ezekiel, God departs the temple shortly before Israel goes into exile—a replay of the earlier scene in the garden.

But still God keeps coming back.

Next, he comes to dwell with us in human form, as Jesus—God in flesh and blood.

According to the scriptures, God will return to dwell with us again, this time bringing a whole city with him (which prompted an interesting conversation with my 4-year-old about how big God’s arms must be).

At the end of all things, God will mend the breach between heaven and earth for good.

This changes how we view the gospel. It means this world matters. It matters to God, so it should matter to us.

It means salvation is not just about me and where I go when I die. Salvation, as seen in the Bible, is all-encompassing. It’s “the renewal of all things, not just individual human souls.

This is the story we should tell our kids—a story in which their lives, their choices, and their participation in this world matter. A story where, instead of pressuring them to renounce “worldly” desires for “spiritual” things, we help them to see and welcome God’s presence in all things. A story where the life of this world is not renounced but redeemed.

If we miss how our story begins, we’ll miss where it’s going. If we settle for an escapist gospel, we might just find ourselves moving in the opposite direction as God.

We keep trying to escape the world; God keeps trying to break into it.

God made the world to be his home. Starting our gospel here will make all the difference in the world.

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Firmament image via Exploring Our Matrix. John Walton quote via Christianity Today.