3 Things Your Kids Need to Live the Christian Life

Christian parenting is hard. It’s complex. It’s also crucial if you want your children to grow up to be faithful, productive Christians. What if there were a way to simplify it a bit and know what you needed to focus on the most? It’s possible, but first, we need to define the type of Christian we want our children to be.

Is your goal to have children who identify themselves as Christian, believe in God, are nice and attend worship service a few times a year? Is your goal for them to attend church most of the time as adults, give money to their church and help with one of the ministry chores in their congregation? Or is your goal to raise a child who passionately lives his or her faith as an adult – obeying God’s commands and principles, worshipping God at church and in life, fellowshipping with Christians, serving others and sharing their faith daily? I believe God wants your children to grow up to not just believe in Him and be nice people, but truly model their lives to be like the life of Jesus – daily worshipping, studying, praying, obeying, serving others and sharing their faith.

Sounds great, but how do we get there? Our minister’s message this week wasn’t about parenting, but I think his points also work well as we Christian parent our children. Your kids are going to be involved in spiritual warfare. In order to get to Heaven and take as many with them as possible (making the world a better place in the process), they will need you to help them in three basic areas.

  1. Preparation. They can’t live the life God wants them to live if they have no idea what that is. They can’t defeat Satan when tempted by quoting scripture (like Jesus did when tempted) if they don’t know any scripture. They can’t serve others and share their faith effectively if they don’t even know what they believe. Your job in this area is to prepare them as well as you possibly can. If you were sending your child into a dangerous situation and wanted them to return unharmed, you would do anything and everything possible to make sure they were prepared. The battle for their souls has eternal consequences and you should be just as passionate about making sure they are prepared for it.
  2. Purpose. Do your kids know their purpose on Earth? Many young people struggle because they have no sense of purpose or meaning in their lives. The Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20 is a good place to start. The New Testament is filled with commands and principles God gives Christians that help build an understanding of our meaning and purpose on Earth and how we are to think, speak and behave to be able to most fully reach those goals.
  3. People. The people with whom we spend the most time impact us in lots of ways. Your kids can’t isolate themselves from people who aren’t Christian or never sin, because they wouldn’t have anyone to spend time with during their lives. Especially when they are young, however, they should spend the majority of their time with people who encourage them to obey God – whether or not they have the same beliefs. They should look for friends who help them be the best that they can be. Your children will be kind to, serve and teach others who are struggling, but their faith isn’t strong enough to weather having those people as their best friends. Even as adults – when they may spend much of their day ministering to others, they still need to have a core group of friends who are strong Christians and will not only encourage them, but also hold them accountable.

That’s it. Christian parenting boils down to three basic areas – preparation, purpose and people. If you help your children well in those three areas, they will very likely be faithful, productive Christians as adults.

Helping Your Kids Make New Year’s Resolutions All Year

Our holiday celebrations have done us a disservice. We have unknowingly come to believe that decisions to change are best made on New Year’s Day. Which is fine if it’s only a couple of days away, but not so great if it is another 364 days from now.

Your children need to believe they can initiate needed changes – especially with God’s help – at any point in time. In fact, that is one of the huge beliefs underpinning Christianity – that we can change and make godly choices, becoming who God wants us to be. Don’t let a little thing like New Year’s undermine your children’s ability to repent and change course whenever it is needed.

You can lead by example – announcing a change you want to make at some random time and asking them to encourage you and hold you accountable. You can also create little random times of setting goals for positive change. A mom I know said that they would each write down something in their lives they wanted to get rid of (like a bad habit) and throw the piece of paper into the fire to symbolize the change they were working towards. You could have a “Goal of the Month” for the family or each person. Create space on birthdays, holidays, family vacations and at other times when a little reflection and goal setting would add to the experience.

While hopefully some of the goals will be spiritual, it’s okay to have some fun goals too. There’s nothing wrong with everybody saving money together so you can go on a special vacation. Or finally climbing that nearby mountain together. Your kids will still learn something from the process of how to set and achieve goals in life that can translate to spiritual goals as well.

Don’t believe the cultural hype that goal setting is for stressed out perfectionists. God has always asked His people to continue to grow spiritually and that’s a lot easier to accomplish if your kids learn how to set and reach spiritual goals.

Are Your Kids Creating Jesus In Their Image?

How many times have you heard someone in a discussion involving religion use the words “I think…”, as in “I think Jesus would agree with my personal feelings on” the topic at hand? We probably all do it to some extent, but it’s more common in young people who don’t yet have the biblical knowledge and understanding to actually attempt to make accurate statements about what Jesus would or wouldn’t do, say or think.

Our culture has painted Jesus as going through the world as the epitome of love. While that is accurate, the love that Jesus gave wasn’t always warm and fuzzy. Sometimes that love was tough love – calling out sins and sinful attitudes when they were evident. Telling people they had to obey God’s commands and couldn’t always do what they wanted to do – even if it felt right. Calling people to not just avoid doing unto others what they wouldn’t want done to them, but to go the extra mile and do things they would want done to them. Jesus called people to sacrificial, humble, obedient, service filled life. The world’s Jesus just calls people to be nice.

Your children will have lots of opportunities in life to form and share their opinions about Jesus. It is important those accurately reflect the real Jesus and not the Jesus your kids may want him to be. Often the real Jesus disappears most quickly when your kids are tempted to justify a favored sin and replaced with a Jesus who would want them to be happy – because of course that’s what love is.

There is a strategy to teach your children to help them avoid creating Jesus in their image. Don’t just teach this to them, but help them practice it whenever they start talking about what Jesus would or wouldn’t do, say or think.

  1. Impress upon them the role of the Bible as ultimate fact checker. It doesn’t matter how wonderful or logical something sounds, if the Bible contradicts it, then it must be rejected as false. Of course, it is much easier for your children to use the Bible as their fact checker if they are already very familiar with its contents. Ignorance of scripture is a major contributing factor to creating Jesus in our own image.
  2. What is the evidence for the statement in the Bible? As dangerous as cherry picking scriptures can be, it’s usually how people just learning to use the Bible as their guide operate. It’s just more practical to use a concordance or other aid to quickly find scriptures that may be applicable to the topic than try to read through the entire Bible every time you have a question. Encourage them, however, to at least read a verse or two before and after the passage to make sure it isn’t taken totally out of context… like perhaps someone saying God says to not do something right before the passage that read without that verse may make it seem like we should do that very thing. It won’t help with things like the bad advice Job’s friends gave him that isn’t revealed as really bad advice until chapters later, but it will catch a lot of them.
  3. What is the evidence against the statement in the Bible? Are their verses that contradict what is being said that can be found in scripture? If it seems like the evidence from the previous question and this one seem to contradict each other as well, teach them good ways to dig a little deeper, like asking a Bible class teacher, minister, elder or you to help them understand what is happening. Often, the problem goes back to context or the Old Law versus the New Law. As you help them, teach them what you did to learn and understand the tools you are using to help explain the answer to them.
  4. Are there real life examples in the Bible? Let’s say, for example, your child is trying to discover whether or not it is okay to tell half truths. There are a lot of verses about how God hates lies, but your child still thinks there is some wiggle room. The real life example of Ananias and Sapphira in the Bible makes it abundantly clear that half truths are not acceptable to God. (Note: There are a few cases of what would normally be sin portrayed as acceptable to God, but those are extremely rare and have special circumstances attached.)
  5. What real life examples can they find that show some of the possible consequences of making the choice one way or the other? This one is a bit trickier and definitely is for more mature kids with your guidance. (Satan makes sure there are plenty of examples of people who sin and seem to get by with it.) What you want to teach them to do is to look for the possible negative consequences of making what appears to be a choice that goes against scripture, but still sounds appealing to them. It’s a sort of aversion therapy if you will. So let’s say, they think Jesus would be okay with them getting drunk after a bad week in order to blow off steam. From the previous questions, it looks like Jesus would not want them to do it, but they are still insisting Jesus “would understand” and condone it. So encourage them to look up all of the negative consequences that are possible or likely from binge drinking/getting drunk. In the case of most sins, the actual evidence – especially found in academic research – strongly backs God’s wisdom. Of course, Satan makes sure there will usually be some perceived benefits too – which is why your guidance is needed. For example in our alcohol example, some studies show a slight heart benefit. Pointing out that grape juice, exercise and diet can provide similar or greater benefits without all of the negative side effects is something usually an adult with a little more knowledge, life experience and wisdom can provide.

This method is not always full proof. Young people who are determined to rebel against God won’t care what the Bible says or what the possible negative earthly or heavenly consequences may be. But for the majority of children who are taught how to use this technique from a very young age and who have a heart that still wants to please God, these steps can lessen the likelihood they will begin creating Jesus in their image instead of attempting to become more like Jesus themselves.

Answering the Spiritual Questions Your Kids Aren’t Asking

Depending upon the source, only 3-10% of children being raised in Christian homes have a faith foundation strong enough to ensure they will be faithful Christians as adults. Yet, I imagine if we were to poll Christian parents, the vast majority would say their children fell into that 3-10% of spiritually grounded young people. It’s human nature to think we and those we love are the positive exceptions to the rule. It’s one of the reasons why people continue to do things they know are bad for their health – they will be in that small minority that comes out unscathed from their bad choices.

Part of the problem is that as parents we tend to freeze frame our children at various points in their lives. Your view of the strength of your children’s faith may very well be based on something they said when they were in preschool about how they love Jesus. Or maybe your confidence is based on the fact that your children chose to be baptized and devote their lives to Christ. While that is an important step on any faith journey, it doesn’t guarantee your children won’t rebel against God later in life.

We tend to think rejection of God begins when someone becomes enamored of and then enmeshed in sin. The truth is that for many young people being raised in Christian homes, the first step away from God is much more subtle and insidious. In fact, it’s a little replay of how Satan worked in the Garden of Eden. Satan lured Adam and Eve into sin by getting them to question and then doubt God’s truth – if they ate the fruit of that tree, they would die.

Satan works the same way today. First come the questions. What I’ve always wondered is why Adam and Eve didn’t discuss what Satan said with God before they ate the fruit. It wasn’t like they were starving. Or that they didn’t have regular access to God who actually walked and talked with them. They just chose not to go to the source of truth with their questions. Adam and Eve accepted Satan’s lie as the answer to the question he had posed and acted accordingly.

Your kids are going to have lots of questions about spiritual things. It’s how they process and learn. To you, some of these questions may sound like doubts more than questions and in some cases, they may be. These questions and doubts can feel very scary as parents. What if we don’t know the answer? What if we give the wrong answer? Or perhaps we give the right answer, but word it in such a way that it pushes are children even farther away from God?

Interestingly, studies have shown that it’s not these questions and doubts that in and of themselves cause young people to reject God. It’s when they go unanswered by Christian adults. Because, just like in Eden, Satan will make sure they will get his answer. And Satan’s answers are always designed to encourage us to walk away from God and live life our way.

Don’t be fooled into thinking your kids are set because they don’t ask these questions. They may not have voiced them to you or know how to articulate them, but they have them. If you shut them down whenever they ask a spiritual question, they will stop asking them and that puts your kids’ faith at even greater risk. Make your home a place where it is safe to ask any question about God, the Bible, Christianity or anything else of a spiritual nature. Be honest if you don’t know the answer and look for answers together. (Note: Any answer should ultimately point your kids to scripture, not another human – unless that human is used to encourage your kids to read and study scripture.)

Your children have spiritual questions. Encourage them to ask them all and help them find biblical answers. Don’t let Satan have free reign over your children’s thoughts and beliefs.

Fun Family Activity Exploring Scarcity & Abundance Mindsets

If the devil is truly the father of lies as Jesus taught (John 8:44), one of his favorites is the scarcity mindset. A scarcity mindset is a belief that every possible resource – including things like love – is limited and therefore when some of a resource is given to someone else, there is less for you. As with all of Satan’s lies, there is a bit of truth to hook us. If you have one apple pie and give someone a slice, there is definitely less of that pie for everyone else to eat.

What the scarcity mindset ignores is that there are often infinite resources we just can’t see at the moment. There are other apple pies that can be baked or purchased. A mother’s love is infinite and can expand to love dozens of children equally. Unfortunately, a scarcity mindset leads to selfishness, jealousy, envy, stress, short term versus long term thinking and problem solving, power struggles, cheating, lying, theft and a host of other problems and sins. As we learn from Cain and Abel, in its extreme a scarcity mindset can even lead to murder (and war).

There is a fun family devotional you can do with your children to begin shifting them from a scarcity to an abundance mindset. Start by sharing the story of Elisha feeding the hundred in 2 Kings 4:38-44. You may have never heard or forgotten about this story yourself. Note the similarities to Jesus feeding the 5000 and 4000 later in time. Introduce the idea of a scarcity mindset…. that 20 loaves are not enough to feed a 100 men or 5 loaves and two fish enough to feed 5000. Yet, with God anything is possible. Ask your children what would have happened if any of the people involved in the stories had possessed a scarcity mindset. Would they have shared the little food they had? Why not? What might have happened if they didn’t share their food?

Now your children might point out that in those cases God created a miracle so there was an abundance of food. How can they be sure that when they share or have an abundance mindset, that there will be enough for them? For a fun activity, re-enact the story of Stone Soup. This can be a really fun activity for several families to do together or you can set up each member of your family to be an entity in the story.

The gist of the story is that during a famine each family in the village just had one item left in their home to eat and it wasn’t enough. One potato, one carrot, etc. Someone had the idea that if they pooled all of their items and added lots of water they would have a soup that would feed them all for several meals (the actual story involved tricking everyone so it isn’t necessary to actually tell the story, just reenact the sharing and pooling of resources aspect). Without sharing and pooling their resources they wouldn’t have enough for even one meal for their family. You can do it with soup, but it can also work with any recipe where each family or person just has one ingredient and can’t make the desired finished product without the help of everyone else.

While you are eating, ask your children how a scarcity mindset would have meant their project failed while an abundance mindset made it successful. Ask them to think of other real life examples. Then discuss examples of things we believe are in short supply – like love and friendship – but which can actually expand and give many people more than enough. For older children and teens, you may also want to explore the idea of sacrificial giving – sharing something even though it may mean you actually do have less for yourself – and how God feels about that.

If you want to extend the activity, find things your family can share with an abundance mindset. This is one of those discussions you want to continue having over the years to encourage generosity in your children.