Ever have one of your children tell you that they ”really, really neeeeeeeeed” something that is actually not a necessity? It’s important for your kids to thoroughly understand the difference between their ”needs” and their ”wants”. If not, they will be more likely to become selfish, entitled, greedy and unwilling to help others because it costs them something ”important”.
Start by telling them the story of Elijah found in 1 Kings 16:29-17:24. Explain that God took care of Elijah’s ”needs”, but didn’t necessarily provide everything that Elijah may have wanted. For example, the ravens brought Elijah bread and meat and he had water to drink from the brook. God didn’t give Elijah fruit or his favorite dish. Anything above the very basics in life are not needs, but things we want. It is not sinful to at times want something. Wanting too much or thinking we ”deserve” or ”need” the things we want can cause us to have sinful attitudes and behaviors as we attempt to get everything we want.
Place several magazines and catalogs in front of your children. If your children are younger, point to various photos and ask them if the item pictures something they need or something they want. Give older children the chance to find pictures of things that may be harder to decide if the item is a need or a want. For example, are vegetables a need or a want? Are there circumstances when vegetables might switch from one category to another? (Perhaps, we need vegetables to be healthy, but we may want a particular vegetable. In what situations would that want be okay and when might it be a sign we are becoming selfish or entitled?)
While on the surface this is an easy subject to teach your children, the nuances of it can be more difficult. Continue to revisit the topic regularly with your kids to help them develop hearts that are grateful and generous.
Part of the challenge of teaching the Bible to children and teens is that it contains the stories of people who lived in cultures very different from our own. They had different technology, household items, clothing, food, music, languages and customs. The average child from today being told a Bible story about David, for example, might hear something like…”So David was out in the fields tending sheep, playing his lyre and practicing his slinging.”
As adults, we know what all of those things are and how they are important in later stories about David. Children, however, probably have no idea what is involved in tending sheep and may not have even seen a sheep in real life. They also don’t know what a lyre is or slinging. So what they hear from that original sentence is ”So David was out in the fields blah, blah, blah.” And that’s assuming they even know what a field is! Of course their brains aren’t satisfied with the ”blahs” in the sentence so they begin to try and figure out what those mystery words meant.
Meanwhile, you are three paragraphs further into the story….three paragraphs they haven’t heard because they are still trying to figure out the first sentence you said. Of course, once they realize you are so far ahead of them in the story, many will give up entirely and begin thinking of things totally unrelated to what you are trying to teach them.
Taking the time to explore some of these cultures with your kids fills in a lot of the “blahs” for them, making the Bible much easier to understand. Plus it is a lot of fun! Thankfully, there are a lot of resources both online and offline to help you and your kids explore the various cultures of the Bible. To start though, you need to know some of the cultures you may want to explore. We have left out some of the more obscure ones in our list of cultures to explore with your kids. (Note that the list contains the terms under which you are most likely to find resources.) Arabia, Assyrians, Amorites, Babylon, Crete, Cyprus, Edom, Egypt, Ethiopia, Greece or Greek Empire, Hittites, Persia, Israel, Roman Empire, Jebusites, Kush, Lebanon, Macedonia, Malta, Medes, Mesopotamia, Samaria, Sheba (Yemen), Syria and Philistines. It is important to add the word ”ancient” when searching for any culture that has a modern equivalent, so you only get the information regarding the time periods covered in the Bible.
There are some great general resources that often cover more than one culture.
Museums. If you live near a museum with actual artifacts, that is a great way for them to see some of the items ”in real life”. Those memories often ”stick” better than looking at photos, although photos are preferable to nothing at all. This link has a great list of the museums in every state that contain artifacts related to cultures in the Bible. https://www.bibleplaces.com/us-museums-artifacts-biblical-world/
Online museum collections. Educators favorites are the Metropolitan Museum of Art (metmuseum.org), the British Museum (britishmuseum.org) and the Louvre (louvre.fr/en). Search the collections to find not only artifacts, but artwork related to the Bible.
Lonely Curator videos. The Museum of the Bible has short 3-5 minute videos their curators made during the pandemic when the museum was closed. They cover a variety of topics. Some are better than others, but several have interesting information. (Like did you know that from the time you start making the dough for unleavened bread until the time it comes out of the oven has to be less than 18 minutes or it is considered leavened? Flour and water eventually create a leavening of their own even without yeast and evidently that process begins at the 18 minute mark!)
Recipes. Google ”ancient recipes of ________” to find authentic recipes. Some sites are better than others so fair warning about any content on these websites beyond the actual recipes. I found a website ancientrecipes.org that seems to have recipes from several cultures in the Bible.
Clothing. It is difficult to find a lot of high quality websites with clothing from ancient cultures, but google ”clothing in ancient _________” to find what is available.
Music. YouTube has videos of music from several ancient cultures featuring some instruments that are unfamiliar to us today. Search for ”music from ancient _______” to see what’s available.
When using unfamiliar websites, be careful to screen before allowing your children to use them without you. At times, they may contain information that is unbiblical, spurious or just too confusing for children to sift through. Have fun with it. Use a Bible story as a springboard for your exploration or explore a culture and then find all of the stories in the Bible related to it. Exploring these cultures will make your kids’ Bible reading comprehension much better, plus it is a fun way to explore God’s Word together.
If you’ve ever had a child in early elementary school, you know that age group often considers the word ”stupid” as a curse word. They may use other unkind words, but not ”stupid”! Sadly, for most children that ban fades with time and their words can become increasingly unkind or even mean. Speaking unkindly to others can become a bad habit that is very difficult to break. There is a fun way you can work together as a family to speak more kindly to others.
Gather your kids together and share with them verses in the Bible about how we are to speak to one another. Some good ones are Proverbs 16:24, Proverbs 15:1-4, Ephesians 4:29, Colossians 4:6, Proverbs 25:11, 1 Peter 3:15. Have your kids explain each scripture to you in their own words and give examples that illustrate the verses. Explain that all of you need to practice being more careful in how you speak to others.
Have several pieces of paper (preferably large), each headed with a different category like ”Unkind Words”, ”Kind Words”, ”Words That Help”, ”Words That Hurt”, ”Words That Encourage”, ”Words That Discourage”, etc. Have your children give you suggestions of words or phrases for each category (Note: There is no need to list every curse word. The term can cover them all unless your kids are using words they don’t realize are curse words.) Make sure your lists include the things they say to each other that you know are unkind or hurtful.
Explain that the lists will be where everyone can see them and add other things as they think of them. Periodically share any new entries. Don’t be too surprised if they add things you say to them. Sometimes parents are unaware how the things they say impact their children – and that may differ from child to child. (A great deeper conversation to have with older children and teens – how careful do we need to be with words that some find hurtful, but others don’t.)
What happens next depends on your family. Do you need to break bad habits? Are you trying to encourage them to focus on being more intentional in providing encouragement to others? If you are trying to break bad habits, you may want to establish some sort of accountability. Maybe a jar filled with slips of paper – each listing a chore that must be done if caught using unkind words with someone. To be fair, if you have such a system you need to let your kids ”catch” you using unkind speech and assign you a slip. It may be necessary, however, to explain the difference between parental correction and unkind speech (assuming you are loving, but firm in your correction).
If you are trying to encourage more intentional encouragement from your children to others, try to ”catch” them in the act and give praise when it is appropriate. You may also choose to give some sort of small reward when you feel like they have established better habits. For teens, you might also want to work on ways they can use their words to point others to God and share their faith.
Have fun with it. Have your kids make scripture art with verses about how we speak to one another and display it around your house. Encourage them to write and perform a skit on the topic for younger children. Get blank books and let them write and illustrate a children’s book on the topic they can use when babysitting or donate to a group working with young children. Assist them in developing strategies strategies that can help them to remember to speak kindly to others when they are away from home, like a special bracelet or memorizing a verse to think about when tempted to use unkind or hurtful words.
For some families this may need to be an ongoing project. It’s worth it though if your family becomes known as Christians who always speak kindly to others.
I have to admit that there are a few stories in the Bible that are just funny. One of my favorites can be a great way to introduce your kids to the importance of moderation in living the Christian life. You can find the story in Numbers 11:4 and following.
This is one of those stories that is best read directly from the Bible. The exasperation of Moses at the whining of the people is classic! Then for God to basically tell them that if they want quail…He will give them quail. In fact, they will eat so much quail for a month that it will ”come out of their nostrils”! I don’t know about you, but it sounds like a conversation that could happen in any home with whining children!
There are a couple of ways to have fun with the idea of having ”too much of a good thing”. Before you read the Bible story to your kids, call them to a meal. Serve them ice cream or some other treat as their entire meal (One non-nutritious meal won’t be bad for most healthy children and having only dessert for a meal will make the experience very memorable – especially if you are normally really healthy eaters.)
After they have enjoyed their unusual treat of a meal, inform them that from now on that will be the only food they will be given for every meal and snack. Very young children may get excited at first. Remind them that if they only eat ice cream, they can’t eat any of their other favorite foods like macaroni and cheese.
Or you can do the same thing by finding a recipe for ”manna” cookies and giving that to them for their meal. Explain that although we don’t know exactly what manna tasted like, we have enough of a description to know a little bit about what it may have tasted like. Ask them how they would feel if that were the only food they ever got to eat – every meal – every day – every week – every month.
In both cases your kids will probably admit that while it is fun to have a dessert like meal, having only it for a long time would be difficult. It’s too much of a good thing. Then read them the story of the manna and the quail. Explain that the Israelites had the same reaction. Only instead of remembering that God had just rescued them from slavery (which was horribly difficult), they focused on the fact that they missed the variety in their diet. They whined and complained until God got so frustrated He gave them so much quail, they probably never wanted to eat quail again. It was too much of a ”good thing”.
Read them a few verses like 1 Corinthians 6:12, Proverbs 25:27 and Proverbs 25:16. Explain that there are some things God knows we need or want that in moderation aren’t bad for us, but that if we want too much of it we can have too much of a ”good thing”. Have your kids think of examples in addition to the ones in the verses you read. Suggest that sometimes wanting too much of something – like money – means we even stop worshipping God and make the thing we want our idol. How deeply you can go with this conversation will depend upon the age and maturity of your kids.
Explain the concept of moderation. Help your kids think of ways to enjoy good things with moderation so they don’t get too much of a good thing or start worshipping the good thing instead of God. Have them share the good things they like so much that they could have problems with later if they are not careful to keep God first. Encourage them to use strategies that help them remember to use that thing in moderation.
One of the best things about mentoring parents today is that we have actual data about what works and what doesn’t work in the faith development of children and teens. Twenty years ago, I would have had to rely on my own experiences and observations. Now, I can be a little more confident I am giving advice that will truly help your kids build strong faith foundations and develop to their full God given potential.
When I was a child, reading the Bible daily was a top priority in many Christian homes. Props to our parents, because the NIrV Bible had yet to be published. Most of the versions were quite a few years ahead of the reading levels of even the best readers amongst us. As time has passed, however, I have begun hearing more and more Christians give the excuse that reading the Bible daily isn’t so important because they know the gist of it or are already struggling to do what they have read up to this point in their lives. Adult Bible class discussions have often morphed from ”What about such and such passage?” to ”I think” or ”I feel”. Daily Bible reading is now viewed by some Christians as legalistic and even toxic (because it can lead to legalism).
At the same time, the number of young people rejecting God and the Church as they enter adulthood have grown. Is there a connection? Intuitively, I believed there was, but had no proof. Studies have been done now, however, that make it easier to verify that connection. The important thing to note was that this particular study didn’t talk to all parents or parents who called themselves Christian. It was limited to parents who had behaviors the study defined as engaged Christian parents, meaning they regularly engaged with their children in prayer, biblical conversations, worship attendance, ministering to others and more. You might call these the ”best” Christian parents they could find based on behaviors.
The study asked these spiritually engaged Christian parents how equipped they felt to have conversations with their children about topics like basic doctrinal issues (baptism, etc.), how the Bible applies to life today, sin and forgiveness, Bible history, the authority of scripture, God’s mission for Christians, etc. The results were disappointing. The highest positive response was still under fifty percent and when broken down by topics, many topics had as many as a third of parents claiming to feel insecure about discussing them. And these are the spiritually engaged Christian parents! I would imagine those numbers would be much lower for Christian parents who rarely engage with their kids spiritually at all. (This also doesn’t measure whether or not the things parents are teaching their children are actually biblically accurate.)
Even worse, parental spiritual engagement begins dropping off right about the age of accountability. So the time period when our kids are making the most important decision of their lives and learning how to live out their commitment to God once they become a Christian is the same time period when their parents start leaving them to fend for themselves spiritually. And we wonder why young people are leaving the church!
If you, like the many Christian parents, feel uncomfortable having those spiritual conversations with your kids, it’s time to educate yourself. Ask an elder, minister or Bible class teacher for a Bible reading plan that will help you learn more about these topics. If you don’t understand what you are reading or how to communicate the information in ways your kids can understand, ask for help. Encourage your kids to read the Bible independently. Read it out loud to them. Make daily Bible reading a personal habit. Saving the next generation requires getting back to the basics. And it starts with everyone reading the Bible regularly.