One of the more odd stories from the time Jesus spent on Earth is found in Matthew 21:18-22 and Mark 11:12-25. It seems strange, doesn’t it, that Jesus would destroy a tree for not bearing fruit when it wasn’t even the correct season for it! Yet when you connect the story to what happened immediately after it in the text, it becomes a little more clear. Jesus and God expect those serving them to bear fruit and there will be consequences for failing to produce any. It’s a similar lesson to that found in the Parables of the Talents and Minas and in other scriptures in the New Testament.
So what does it mean to bear fruit and why is it important that your children understand the importance of bearing fruit as Christians? There’s a fun family devotional you can have to start the conversation. Before the devotional, purchase some fruit at the grocery store. Pick one or two that are favorites and then perhaps one or two that are new to your children.
Read your children the two parables. Explain that often the first four books, the Gospels, tell the same or very similar stories – either from a different point of view to reach a different audience of readers – or perhaps because Jesus did or said similar things more than once during his ministry. Ask your children why they believe Jesus destroyed the fig tree. Explain that when stories like this are in the Bible, God wants us to learn something from them. What do they think they are supposed to learn from these parables?
Point out that right after the parable in Mark, Jesus cleansed the Temple. What might be the connection? Jesus was angry at the Priests for taking advantage of the people and trying to make a lot of money, rather than ministering to the people which was supposed to be the fruit they were bearing. The fig tree was to teach the apostles an important lesson that could help them better understand – and later teach – what was about to happen at the Temple.
Read Matthew 28:18-20. Explain that some Christians are confused. They think that being a Christian is only about avoiding sin. In reality, it is also about producing fruit in the Kingdom. Ask them what clues these verses give us about the types of fruit we are supposed to bear. Read Galatians 5:22-23. Explain that these are more types of fruit Christians should bear. These particular ones let others know we have the Holy Spirit within us (Note: You may need to explain this concept to your children. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is given to us when we become Christians during our immersion in baptism. It does not feel scary to have the Holy Spirit in us, but rather the Holy Spirit is a helper God gives Christians to help them make good choices.)
Ask your children why they think Jesus got so angry when the tree and the priests didn’t produce fruit. Explain that God will also be angry with Christians when they don’t produce any of the fruit that you have studied in the verses you read. Sitting in church or even calling yourself a Christian means little if we don’t produce fruit. Works don’t help us earn our way to Heaven, but is rather the expectation of God from people He has already saved and a fulfillment of our faith. Read James 2:17-26 and ask your children to explain what it means in their own words.
Bring out the fruits you purchased. As you are eating them, Google to find out how they are grown and what happens to the fruit trees that don’t produce fruit after interventions. Orchards can’t afford for space to be taken up by unproductive trees. If a tree has no hope of producing fruit again, it will be destroyed and a new tree planted in its place. End your time by explaining God has much He wants Christians to do on Earth. He needs us to be productive so the work can all be done. Brainstorm some ways your family can produce fruit for God now.
Your biggest fear as a Christian parent is probably that your children grow up to reject God. Or claim to be a Christian, but then refuse to obey God’s commands. You may wonder why some parents seem to raise children who are faithful as adults, while others who appear similar have children who reject God and His commands. There are some surprising reasons why this rejection or rebellion happens.
Your parenting style. Authoritarian parents have lots of rules and strict consequences for disobeying them and aren’t very nurturing of their children. Permissive parents have basically no rules and don’t give consequences when the few rules they may have are violated. Authoritative parents have rules and boundaries that are consistently enforced and fair, logical consequences are given for disobedience. They are also nurturing, engaged, loving parents. Our children often grow up to believe God reflects the parenting style of their parents. Authoritarian parents raise children who reject God because He is harsh. Children raised in permissive homes may not reject God outright, but feel no need to obey His commands because they have been raised to believe rules are optional, nor do they fear any consequences, because they assume there won’t be any. Authoritative parents are more likely to raise children who have an accurate view of God and stay faithful.
You disobey God’s commands with no signs of remorse or repentance. Do your children regularly hear you lie or commit some other sin without showing any remorse that you sinned? Do you rationalize disobeying one of God’s commands? Do they never hear you ask God or anyone else for forgiveness? If so, you are setting the example of a rebellious life they may very well copy.
You haven’t taught them what it really means for God to be Lord of their lives. If your children don’t understand what it truly means to be servants of the King, it’s no wonder they think they can make their own rules for living life. As God’s humble servants, God makes the rules and our job is to obey His commands and ask for His forgiveness when we rebel against them. Your children don’t get to disobey the commands of God because they don’t like them.
They don’t thoroughly understand the consequences of rebellion against God. Many Christian parents are afraid of teaching their children about Hell for fear of traumatizing them. Most churches rarely mention Hell. In fact, most young people raised in Christian homes don’t believe in Hell as a real place or possible consequence for rebelling against God. While you want to teach them about Hell in age appropriate ways, they need to have a clear understanding that Hell is real and it is a place in which they do not want to spend Eternity. As much as we want to believe obedience to God is only about love and gratitude, it is also built on an awareness of God’s power and knowledge that eternal consequences will be given for rebellion against Him.
Most of what they think they know about God and His commands was learned from the secular world. The world has a very inaccurate idea of God and His commands. About Christianity in general. Even supposedly “religious” characters in movies and shows spout some of the most unChristian dialog or represent Christian beliefs inaccurately. Books are even worse at times because they have the leisure of pages to really make an anti-Christian point. If your children aren’t receiving a lot of teaching from the Bible at church and home, the bulk of what they believe they know about God, His commands and all things Christian will come from these secular, inaccurate sources – designed to pull them away from God.
The good news is that you have the power to counter all of these influences that can pull your children away from God. Don’t wait to make the changes you need to make so your children don’t fall prey to these faith killers.
Once upon a time, someone posted a recipe for bean soup on the Internet. The comments that followed were both funny and horrifying. Not just one. Not just a handful. Scads of people posted comments asking her to rework the recipe so it didn’t contain beans. Mind you, this was a BEAN soup recipe. When she didn’t post a reworked recipe without beans, she was verbally clobbered.
Our world online is currently ruled by algorithms. Ever wonder why everyone online appears to agree with your viewpoint on issues or likes the same things you like? Ever begun to think your opinions and preferences are the most popular at the moment based on what you see on social media platforms? Sorry to burst your bubble, but that’s because those wonderful little algorithms want to keep you happy. Because if you are happy, you will stay on their website or app longer. Which turns into more revenue for them.
The bean soup people of the world are the result of “having it your way” all of the time. Bean soup people can’t tolerate differences of opinion or ways of looking at the world. Mind you, we aren’t just talking about spiritual, biblical disagreements. We suddenly hate people who love bacon when we don’t like it. You know. Important things. Things that have started wars.
And of course, carefully curated content matches our moods and keeps us constantly entertained. Boredom is the only deadly sin (other than poorly executed content). If something doesn’t make us immediately feel better, we quickly move on to something else that may.
Unfortunately, churches and ministries have bought the bean soup hype that children and teens must constantly be in a high tech environment that is carefully curated to match their tastes and beliefs (no matter how naive or wrong they may be) and above all to keep them on a constant emotional high. Learning to these Christians is irrelevant. Keeping everyone on some sort of self focused high so they will return is more important than teaching them how to be who God really wants them to be…. selfless servants.
Parents – even those who see the building selfishness and entitlement in their own children – may even demand churches and ministries deliver this highly entertaining, yet usually shallow content. Please don’t misunderstand. Part of the mission of our ministry is to encourage engaging spiritual educational content in every environment. Where we part ways is that our emphasis is on the spiritual education piece of the puzzle. While we believe our activity ideas are engaging, we plan them to extend and deepen learning – not to entertain (although often both goals are met). If we were somehow forced to choose between content that is highly entertaining and shallow versus content that isn’t flashy but deepens knowledge, understanding and application of scripture, we will always go for the richer content.
Don’t raise bean soup affect children. Teach them to look for substance and not just flash. Remind them the world should revolve around God and not themselves. And when they encounter a bean soup recipe they don’t like, don’t complain. The world should never be all about them and their personal preferences.
Have a weekend or holiday when you can spend a few hours having fun and teaching your children about God? This one can be lots of fun, but does take a bit of extra work depending upon how “big” you want to go with the theme. The spiritual principle is that although many things change over time, God and His principles and commands do not. (It is also great for talking about modesty which is about having an attitude of modesty (not calling attention to oneself – especially in order to encourage sexual attention) and what clothing that might have meant Christians wore or rejected as immodest at the time Note: This conversation includes the males in your family, as they too can be immodest in attitude and clothing.)
The idea is to look at several times periods and compare and contrast them. Start with the decade in which your children were born, the decade their parents were born, the decade their grandparents were born, a random decade more than 100 years ago and the time of Jesus. Have fun with your kids researching clothing styles, trendy foods, cars (or donkeys/horses!), fads, costs of every day items etc. You can make a trip to the public library, look at old family photos or search online together.
If you want to really spend a lot of time together enjoying this look into the past, consider ordering a box of mixed candy from different decades, cooking old recipes together, taking a ride in a historic car or train, trying on vintage clothing, listening to the most popular songs of that era, etc.
After you have had fun, sit down together and have a discussion. Start by reading Malachi 3:6 and Hebrews 13:8. Ask your children what it means that God never changes. Read Proverbs 6:16-19. Ask your children if they think God hated those things in each of the time periods you explored. Do they think God still hates those things today? Why or why not? Point out that God doesn’t suddenly approve of lying if most of the people in the world suddenly decide lying is better than truth. We don’t get to vote on God’s commands. We show our love for God by serving and obeying Him – even if that means we look very different from our culture.
If you have older children, you may want to spend some time talking about how Christians will always look different from the world around them and why God wants it that way. Spend time talking about the mixed feelings they may have about “never really fitting in with the popular kids at school” or at times, even some Christians who have decided to adapt cultural norms instead of God’s. Revisit these conversations regularly as your children will struggle with needing to be different to please God at various times in their lives.
The Bible never changes, but the variations of translations and special features available to consumers does change from time to time. It can be difficult to keep up with the alphabet soup of translations, much less things like publisher speak like thought-for-thought. You may also have questions about all of those little extras placed in Bibles today. What types of things are helpful and which might either confuse your children or quickly make them believe they have outgrown a particular Bible?
We are going to try and cut through some of that confusion and list some of the more popular versions and why we believe they may or may not be the wisest choice for your children. Then we will list what we believe are some helpful additions to some Bibles and why we believe they may add value to a purchase. So, let’s get started!
NIrV Bibles. This has been our top recommendation for a first personal Bible for independent Bible reading for many years now. This is based primarily on the fact that it has been the Bible with the lowest reading level, making it easier to understand for beginning readers and more advanced readers who are beginning independent Bible study. (There is another version at that level now, that will be discussed later.) The “r” is important because that means it is the version of the Bible written on a third grade reading level. It is not a paraphrase per se, but does appear to be moving more towards the thought for thought translation rather than word for word. The downside is that it is not the most accurate version (most believe the word for word translations are in general the most accurate), but to my knowledge the only huge difference one could argue the interpreters have made is making it somewhat gender neutral (for example people instead of mankind). Although not perfect, it is still the best Bible to get children and even many teens. Why? Because any Bible with a reading level too far ahead of a child’s current reading level will be a frustration text and convince the child that the Bible isn’t worth reading for themselves because it is “too hard”. Most of the remaining popular versions range from 7-12th grade reading levels.
International Children’s Bible (ICB). While also on a third grade reading level, this version has one major flaw… its name. Anyone who works with children and teens understands that beginning fairly early in elementary school, most young people don’t like to be thought of as children. While I did find some covers that weren’t childish, I still believe once they see the name of the version, most young people won’t be nearly as interested in using that version. Which is a shame, because otherwise it would have jumped ahead of the NIrV on our list since it is slightly closer to the word-for-word end of the spectrum.
NIV. For many people, this is the automatic choice. It is closer to a word-for-word translation that the two earlier translations on this list, but is still not even quite half way there. It also contains a lot of gender neutral words that were not in the original. The reading level is 7-8 grade, meaning it is not a great Bible for any child reading below about the 6th grade reading level (your child’s school teacher can tell you the reading levels of your children). The one benefit is that many churches read from the NIV in worship services and Bible classes, making it easier to follow along.
ESV. In recent years, this version seems have to become more popular with teens and young adults. It’s advantage is that it is much closer to a word-for-word translation than the NIV.