Don’t Just Believe: Encouraging Questions to Strengthen A Child’s Faith

Don't Just Believe“Just believe”…these two words perhaps single handily have done more harm to the children of our churches than an army of snooty atheists, wielding Bertrand Russell essays. Employed by well-meaning Christians, “just believe” has become the quick solution to all serious theological issues. Have a question about God, the Bible, or life? Ignore it. Take a Kierkegaardian leap of faith and believe.

And I’ll be the first to admit that many doctrines such as the doctrine of the trinity, predestination, or of God’s character exceed our tiny limits of comprehension and exploration.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9).

God's ThoughtsBut the fact that God’s thoughts are above us does not mean they are foreign or beyond the scope of reason.  God communicated with people through the Bible. “Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21b). God intends for people to understand and comprehend God by using their mental abilities of observation and reason. Peter, Luke, John, and all of the other Biblical writers claimed to be using human language to convey the real events and conversations that comprise God’s message to the world, the gospel (2 Peter 1:16, I John 1:1-5, Luke 1:1-4, Acts 1:1, I Cor 15:1-8).

Since the Bible claims to be an understandable book that reveals the will of God in the real world, Christians can take their real world concerns and tough questions directly to the Bible (2 Tim. 3:16). Instead of championing irrational belief, the New Testament writers encouraged people to investigate their claims and doctrines. In Acts 17:11, the apostles praised the Jews in Berea for receiving, “The word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). When these Christians heard about the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, they did not just believe. No, they questioned, examined, and analyzed the disciples’ teaching against the word of God (The Old Testament). And their examination of Paul’s teaching strengthened their faith. As seen from this passage and others, the apostles believed rational, human exploration is essential to Christianity. As one professor wrote, “The Bible doesn’t ask us to adopt a BLIND faith but a REASONED faith- a faith that can honestly ask the hard questions and then go out and in search of real, measurable, credible answers” (Kostenberger, 2014, p. 12)

Today, we should help our children take their doubts and concerns about the faith back to the Bible. From my experience, we tend to play the “Have Faith” card because we do not know how to answer our child’s question about, “Why does God let babies die? Or we are scared that if we do answer the question about the source of evil, we will find the Bible wanting.

Friends, we don’t have to be ignorant or scared of the Bible. As one of my favorite writers and professors, Dr. Bruce Ware, often says, “We should never be afraid to ask a question of the Bible.” If we don’t know something, we go investigate. We ask our pastor; we do a word search on Bible Gateway; or we scan our Bible’s concordance.

God’s word is beautiful. Yes, the Bible has many hard sayings. It wounds my pride and challenges my assumptions often.  And when we devote time to the Bible, we all will be challenged to repent of greed, pride, and a host of other sins. But when we dig down deep into the word of God, we also find true life and comfort (Psalm 119:40, 52)! Although our sinful habits and misconceptions of God might be hurt by the Bible, the ultimate result of our biblical exploration will be an increased faith (Psalm 119:66).

And if we don’t help our children work through their questions, someone else will. Whether it’s the ever popular agnostic, Dr. Bart Ehrman, or the Darwinian high school teacher, or the local atheist blogger down the street, someone will attempt to answer our children’s questions with skepticism. Sadly by simply appealing to reason, the college professor’s incomplete answers will often appear more compelling than the blind faith our children encounter in many Sunday school classes.

Even though they claim to appeal to reason, the skeptics of Christianity put forth many arguments that are seldom the zenith of intellectual thought.  Those who diligently examine the skeptics claims will discover that the agnostics, “doubts are not as solid they first appeared” (Keller, 2008, p. xviii)  Take the problem of evil. Many skeptics claim that the all-powerful, good God of the Bible can’t be real because good people suffer needlessly.  But as Tim Keller explains,

“Just because you can’t see or imagine a good reason why God might allow something to happen doesn’t mean there can’t be one. Again we see lurking within this supposed hard-nosed skepticism an enormous faith in one’s own cognitive faculties. If our minds can’t plumb the depths of the universe for good answers to suffering, well, then, there can’t be any! This is blind faith of a higher order.” (2008, pp. 23-24)

Christian FaithWhile other worldviews employ hidden assumptions, Christianity offers solutions founded upon faith infused reason. As one seminary professor wrote, “Christian faith is true not only because we really want to believe it but also because the truth it believes is the most plausible of all explanations” (Kostenberger, 2014, p. 14).

Admittedly, we cannot reason our children to salvation. God saves.  But, we can help our children grasp the Bible’s rational worldview, a philosophy more worthy of acceptance than the agnosticism of the blogosphere.

The next time a child asks you, “Did Jesus really come back to life?” let’s encourage him to believe by scouring the Bible for a thoughtful answer. And as we wait for questions to boil out our children’s hearts, we can be preparing.  We can grab a copy of the Case For Christ, Big Truths for Young Hearts, or Truth Matters.  Even better yet, we can pray for wisdom and study our Bibles faithfully.  We can begin exploring the words of the one true God daily in personal quiet times and in family worship.  We could even venture outside our homes and start an apologetics class at church. Let’s follow the Apostle Peter’s advice and prepare our families to contend for the faith.

But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;

(1 Peter 3:14-15)

Works Cited

Keller, T. (2008). The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York : Penguin .

Kostenberger, A. B. (2014). Truth Matters: Confident Faith in a Confusing World. Nashville: B&H Publishing .

Keep It Growing, Part B: Five Tips For Effective Family Worship

Keep It Growing: Part B 

SalvationSeries_KeepingItGrowing_6partBLast week, we discussed the necessity, importance, and purpose of family worship. We meet to worship as families because Christ has commissioned spouses and parents to evangelize and disciple their families. In an effort to help us all start or continue our family worship times, I’ve listed several principles and resources that I and many others have found helpful over the years.

5 Ways Tips For Making Family Worship Work

  1. Pick a resource that brings the gospel to your heart. For discipleship to be effective you have to teach others to follow you as you follow Christ. You begin by applying the truths to your heart before you you make it to the kitchen table. If you are not regularly learning from the devotional or being encouraged by it, find another resource.
  2. Be excited, enthusiastic, and intentional. If you think family worship is a labor of boredom, your kids will as well. Have an infectious love for God’s Word. If you struggling with your attitude before family worship, spend some time in prayer thanking God for his salvation and your family.
  3. Set realistic goals. If your goal is to have five family worship sessions every day,SalvationSeries_BaptismClassforParents6 you will probably fail. I would encourage you to try to have a family devotion at least once a week. I do understand that blended families and other situations can make even once a week undoable. Set realistic goal, but don’t let sports or worldly pleasures crowd family worship out of your schedule. Pick a reasonable goal and stick to it.
  4. Keep it simple. All a good family worship times needs is teaching, prayer, and singing. If you have little children, you be could wrapping things up with an off key rendition of Jesus Loves Me about 5 minutes after you start.
  5. Be flexible. If you are planning on talking about love from 1 Corinthians 13 and your children want to discuss the question of “Why do bad things happen to good people,” go with it. Encourage your children’s interest in the Bible. Model for them a dependence upon scripture.

Family Worship Resources

Below, I’ve put together a list of resources that I and other families have found  helpful.  Many of these resources our available in my office if you would like to borrow one. If you know of resources not listed here, please tell share them with us in the comment section.

  • Beside The Still Waters:Taken from the Sermons of Charles Spurgeon this is a short and encouraging devotional that parents and older children would appreciate.
  • The Big Picture Interactive Bible Storybook: Each Bible story is accompanied BIg Picture Interactive Story Book Bibleby references, a Christ connection and a question. The book also goes along nicely with the Gospel Project Sunday school curriculum, helping families and churches to work together. It a great resource for families with younger to middle school aged children.
  • Big Truths For Young Hearts: Dr. Bruce Ware has created a systematic theologybig-truths-for-young-hearts1 for kids. Using stories and conversations from his daughters’ childhoods, Dr. Ware has made deep Biblical truths understandable. Broken down into bit size sections, each chapter contains several memory verses and questions that will help you develop your family worship time. It would be a great resource for families with children of all ages.
  • Bible Book Study: Take a book of the Bible and go through it a section/paragraph at a time. If you want to go more in-depth in your book study checkout either the NIV Application Commentary or the Read/Mark/Learn series. Both are easy reads. This is a good tool for families with children of all ages.
  • Long Story Short or Old Story Long: These books are specifically designed with Long story shortfamilies in mind. Working through the Old and New Testaments respectively, each book is arranged in weekly sections that provide resources for five days of devotions. Each day consists of a passage of scripture, a brief commentary, discussion questions, and prayer points. It’s a great resource for families with younger to middle school aged children.
  • Proverbs: There are 31 chapters in Proverbs making it an easy family devotion tool. Simply take the chapter or a few verses from the chapter that corresponds to the date on the calendar. Great tool for families with children of all ages.
  • Psalms: There are 150 Psalms. You can make your family the devotion the Psalm of the day. After you work through Psalms 1-30, add another 30 and start the next month at Psalm 31. When you get to a month that has 31 days read all of Psalm 119.  Great tool for families with children of all ages.
  • Sermon/Sunday School Devotions: Simply note the passage of this week’s sermon or Sunday school lesson. Take your family back through the passage, asking questions that relate specifically to their lives. At First Baptist Church, we also post a family devotional on our children’s ministry Facebook page that contains scripture references, discussions and questions that go along with your child’s Sunday school lesson. Great tool for families with children of all ages.
  •  Catechism For Young Children: This is a series of 69 short question and answer chatechism for kidssequences designed to help children understand the basic doctrines of faith. After going over the scriptural references that support the question, complete your devotion by having your family memorize one question per meeting. It is a great resource for families with younger children.
  • Thoughts To Make My Heart Sing: A colorful book with short one page devotionals. Sally Loyd Jones does an excellent job of introducing important truths in an engaging fashion. It is a great resource for families with younger children.
  • The Witkowski Plan: My wife and I Memorize Scripture together, working through a book of the Bible one verse at a time. After we discuss the word, we pray out loud together. On busy nights when we get home late, we make the Psalm of the day our devotion. Great tool for families with older children.

Preaching To Little People

SalvationSeries_LittlePeople_3God Saves Little People 

The precious little people that made up our kids church were bouncing through doorways, scooting under pin pong tables, and ducking around railings. As I tried to herd our cookie infused kids towards their parents, a lady pulled me aside to tell me that her grandson was ready for baptism. I was a completely caught off guard.

Her grandson was a pleasant, little guy. But he was at best a casual church attender with a shaky knowledge of the gospel, and a passion for M17 video games. Over the course of the next few weeks, the church’s pastor and I discovered that this grandmother was not motivated by a low view of baptism. She was driven by a heavy burden of spiritual responsibility.

               She (like many other Christian parents and grandparents) loved her grandson. Being the main Christian influence in his life, the grandmother brought her grandson to church every chance she got.  At some point, she had assumed the responsibility for her grandson’s salvation. Now, she wanted to get him baptized in an effort to get him eternal life. But the great news is that we as parents and grandparents are not responsible for saving our little people. We can’t and we are not supposed to. God saves! As parents and grandparents, we are called to preach the gospel to little people through our life and words. This is a task is a task we can do with the Lord’s help!  

Walking For Little People 

               Before we begin plopping little people down in plastic pews, we have to walk with Jesus. In Deuteronomy 6, we read that we are to, “careful to do” all the commands of God so that it “may go well with you” (Deut. 6:3). Jesus reiterated this command in John 12:26a saying, “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am there will my servant be also.” If we want our children to follow Christ, we must walk with Christ day in and day out. We need to let the Word of God drive our actions at home, at work, at night, in the morning, and at every point of our life. Every aspect of our lives need to daily reflect transforming power of the cross.

If we don’t, our little people will know. In addition to being candy lovers, our children are also gifted hypocrisy detectors. They may not say it (because quite frankly most two-year-olds have yet to add hypocrite to their vocabulary), but they know when our actions deny our words. If family worship is a prayer during a commercial timeout of the final four, our little people know that you love Georgia Bulldogs or more than gospel.

And when we mess up by skipping a family devotion to watch the last episode of The Bachelor or by angrily snapping at our son when he interrupts our game of angry birds, we can still use the situation to proclaim Christ. There is no stronger testimony of the gospel to a child than of a parent humbling asking forgiveness and repenting from of a sin. By humbling ourselves, we show out little people that the power of Christ is real and brings about real life change (I Peter 2:24). Let’s walk in truth.  

Preaching The Gospel To Little People

               But walking is not enough; we also need to preach truth to our little people. Gospel-Gods-Plan-for-Me-poster-thumbnailAccording to Ephesians 6:4, we are told to raise our children in the discipline and admonition of the Lord. We have the awesome opportunity to teach the gospel to our babies, preschoolers, and oh so cool middle schoolers. So what do we say? We preach the story of the Bible, namely that:

  1.  God is the good, all-powerful, and just creator of the universe, existing as one God in three persons. Duet. 4:35; Ps 47:7-8; Col. 1:16-17; Matt. 28:19.
  2. Adam and Eve sinned bringing death and suffering into the world. Because of sin, we now are all sinners deserving of death because we have all sinned. Gen 3:1-7; Rom. 5:12-21; Rom. 3:23.
  3. Christ came to save us from our sins by living a perfect life, dying on the cross, and rising from the dead. Heb. 4:15; I Peter 3:18; I Peter 1:3-5; I Cor. 15:1-9.
  4. Repent of your sins and trust Christ as your Lord and savior. John 3:16; John 3:36; Rom. 10:9; Act 2:38.
  5. Put on the new man created in Christ Jesus. Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10; Matt. 3:8; 2 Cor. 5:17.

If you are looking for some more gospel resources to help you understand how to reach your kids with the gospel, I highly recommend:

  1. The Gospel in Context PowerPoint presentation by One-Eighty Counseling & Education 
  2. Appendix A of The Faithful Parent by Dr. Stuart Scott
  3. The Gospel Plan For Me a Lifeway tract
  4. Big Truths For Young Hearts by Dr. Bruce Ware

Getting Down With The Little People

Now practically, we do not need to have “organized” clinical gospel sessions with our kids. Yes, we should embrace some form of family worship where we can work through the gospel together as a family by reading through scripture and/or devotional materials. But, gospel proclamation is not limited to the family room. As Moses makes clear in Deuteronomy six, we are to instruct our children in righteousness on the baseball diamond, on the floor of the den as you wrestle, and when you tuck your little gal into bed. We are to see every life circumstance as having the potential to lead to a spiritual conversation. Preach the gospel!

The Little People Results

By laying a foundation of gospel proclamation, we get the amazing privilege of playing an instrumental role in our child’s spiritual life. Faith comes through hearing (Rom 10:17). If we faithfully proclaim the gospel with our words and actions, it’s very possible that we as parents will get to lead our children to Christ. Again, this is what Moses anticipates in Deuteronomy 6:20. He anticipates that little people will to turn to their parents for guidance about reaching eternity.

No Magic Pill For Little People

Now unfortunately the steps listed above are not a magic pill. Just as baptism could not SalvationSeries_BaptismClassforParents3ensure the salvation of the grandson mentioned earlier, faithful walking and preaching to a little one does not guarantee their salvation. The spiritual world is not an adding machine. “As John MacArthur writes:

…equipping a child with spiritual truth is no guarantee he or she will follow Christ. I know many diligent parents and grandparents whose hearts have been broken by a family member’s rejection of Christ. We can only plant the seeds by teaching and living out the truth. How they respond is out of our hands.” (Fitzpatrick, Newheiser, & Hendrickson, p. 27)

All of our little guys and gals are sinners born with sin blackened hearts. God must save them just as he saved us. And the Holy Spirit is like the wind, refusing to be manipulated by well-meaning parents and grandparents (John 3:8). But here is the good news. We are not called to save little people. We are called to point them to Christ. This we can do. And until the day we see our little people express and demonstrate faith in the one true God, I invite you to join me in fervently praying for their salvation!

Questions For Reflection

  1. I am living the Christian life well? Are there things such as money, pleasure, sports, shopping etc. that come before Christ?
  2. Have you asked your spouse and children to honestly evaluate your life?
  3. Are the sins you need to repent of and patterns that you need to change? What are they?
  4. Do you have family devotions? Do you preach the gospel to your little people?

Recommend Books

Fitzpatrick, E., Newheiser, J., & Hendrickson, D. L. (2001). When Good Kids Make Bad Choices. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers .

Martha Peace, S. W. (2001). The Faithful Parent: A Biblical Guide to Raising A Family . Philipsberg: R&R Publishing .

Ware, B. A. (2009). Big Truths For Young Hearts: Teaching and Learning the Greatness of God . Wheaton: Crossway.