Sandbox Theology: Teaching Your Children in Everyday Life

with Bruce Ware | December 2, 2011

Do your children sense God’s awesome power? Professor Bruce Ware, author of Big Truths for Young Hearts, encourages parents to use God’s wonderful Creation and other everyday examples to give their children a sense of awe at the thought of God.

Do your children sense God’s awesome power? Professor Bruce Ware, author of Big Truths for Young Hearts, encourages parents to use God’s wonderful Creation and other everyday examples to give their children a sense of awe at the thought of God.

Sandbox Theology: Teaching Your Children in Everyday Life

With Bruce Ware
|
December 02, 2011
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob:  When we think about how to teach the Bible to our children, most of the time we think about teaching them the big stories like Daniel in the lion's den, or Jonah and the whale, or the story of Joseph, even the story of Jesus.

Theologian Dr. Bruce Ware says we need to teach them those stories; but we also need to be teaching them some of the great truths of the faith, helping them understand things like sin.

Bruce:  We need to instill in our children this understanding of sin, that is not merely acts that are wrong that violate standards, but it is a heart of independence from God, that doesn't want to submit to God.  Again, this is so counter-cultural because we live in a culture that despises the notion of submission to authority.

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, December 2nd.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine.  How do we communicate the big ideas, the big truths of Scripture to our children?  We'll have some practical suggestions for you today.  Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us.  You know, I think most of us, as parents, when we’re raising our children, we recognize we have some responsibility to teach them some things about the Bible and about God.  Especially, if we’re Christian parents, we realize that.  So we get story books about Bible stories and read those to our children.  Nothing wrong with doing that, but I guess I wonder if those story books do the job the way it ought to be done.  Do you know what I’m saying?

Dennis:  I do.  In fact, what you're talking about, Bob, is really, I think, what parents want an answer for.  In fact, we surveyed more than 100,000 people in churches across America and asked them, “When it came to parenting, what are the issues you'd like help with?” 

I was astounded that the issue we're going to talk about today was at the top; and if it wasn't number one, it was in the top three issues that parents today ask for and needed help on.  They wanted to know, “How do I introduce my child to God?”, “How can I teach them about Who God is, what He is like?”, and, “How should I relate to them?”

Bob:  That's simple; you just teach them a big song—[sings] "My God is so BIG, so strong and so mighty!  There's nothing my God cannot do—for you!"  Right?  That song—I mean, they got it right then; didn't they?

Dennis:  Let's ask our resident theologian on the broadcast today, Dr. Bruce Ware.  Is that all they need, Bruce?

Bruce:  Well, that's a good start.

Bob:  It is a good start; isn't it?

Dennis:  I'm glad you—

Bruce:  It's actually a very good song, you know?

Dennis:  I'm glad you didn't discourage Bob in his singing.  Bruce is a professor of Christian theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  He's been married for 30 years to his wife Jodi; and they have two daughters, Bethany and Rachel.  He has dedicated this book to them—Big Truths for Young Hearts.  It's all about teaching your children about God.

Now, where do we start?  Do we start with a song?  That's not a bad place to begin—or the story books that Bob mentioned; but there is more we need to do; isn't there?

Bruce:  There is.  I think what songs attempt to do is going in the right direction, and that's developing ideas.  You know, the songs that really mean the most to us are ones where the richness of the truth is unpacked—whether we do that through song, or whether we do it through discussion with our children, and, for that matter, as families, together with wives and husbands, as well—but to unpack the truths that are there in Scripture—to try to convey a vision of how great and glorious God is.

You know, Dennis, I read A.W. Tozer's, The Knowledge of the Holy, when I was a freshman in college; and, honestly, my entire life has been marked by what the Lord did in my life when I read that book.  Tozer—you may remember this very memorable line—he begins Chapter One with the statement, "What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us."  And that is not hyperbole.  This is the truth.

Dennis:  The reason I was chuckling at that, Bruce, is that is one of the most often-repeated quotes on this broadcast.  I love that book, too; and I kind of boiled it down to what I felt like Tozer was saying, which was, “The most important thing about you is what you think about God.”  If we think wrongly about God, we're not going to think rightly about who we are.

Bob:  Or anything else, for that matter.  Right.

Bruce:  And, of course, nothing in our culture encourages us to think rightly about God or about ourselves.  Our culture encourages a far too lofty view of ourselves and a belittled view of God; and we need to turn the tables on this with our own children, and our own homes, and our own churches.  We need to revive the sense of how great God is.  What a privilege it is to be a weak, needy creature who is in relationship with a great, glorious God.

I'm not the great one, I'm not the wise one, I'm not the strong one—He is; but, oh, my goodness, in my weakness and need, what an incredible thing that He would love me and give himself to me as He has.

Dennis:  Where else is the hope?  I'm going to ask you to move off of the soapbox for a moment while I step up on it because I couldn't agree more, and I think the place for that to happen is at home.

Bruce:  Absolutely.

Dennis:  Most of us, as parents, I think, mistakenly believe that we should take them to church to teach them about God.  You know what?  That needs to occur there.

Bruce:  Right.

Dennis:  But, you know where it needs to start?  It needs to start with moms and dads who, in the middle of life—I used to call it "sandbox theology"—playing with your kid in the sandbox—you're relating to them on their level about who God is.

Bob:  Deuteronomy 6, "As you walk on the way, as you rise up, lie down,”—it's all day long.

Bruce:  That’s right.

Bob:  But kids start off life, Bruce, as I think—fundamentally, as empiricists.  Everything they are learning is through their senses.

Bruce:  Yes, right, right.

Bob:  And so you introduce a subject like God, and you take them outside of their senses.  You take them into their imagination; but, now, everything in their imagination is not really true—it's fiction:  it's the Easter Bunny, or it's fairies, or it's goblins, or whatever else you're reading to them as fiction.  How do you help a child understand that God, Who you can't see, and you can't touch, and you can't smell—He is real!

Bruce:  Well, one thing you can do is use images in the Bible itself—that speak of God—that are visual.  I have a very precious memory with our own two girls when they were young—and this story only works because they were young.  You'll see that in a moment. 

I read one morning on our family vacation on the coast of Oregon—we were staying at a cottage that was right on the beach—beautiful area right near Cannon Beach, Oregon.  I had read to them that morning from Isaiah 40, verse 12, that says, "Who do you know Who has measured the waters of this world in the hollow of His hand?"

After we read that morning, I said to the girls, "Hey, how about if we do a little experiment down at the beach?"  Of course, they're excited.  Bethany was about six or seven, and Rachel was about three.  We headed down to the beach; and when we got there, I said, "Okay, girls, now here is what we're going to do.” 

“Remember that verse about how God can hold the waters of the world in the hollow of His hand?"  "Yeah, we remember that, Daddy."  So I said, "Well, what we're going to do is—I'm going to go out into the water.  I'm going to lean down and scoop up all the water I can out of this Pacific Ocean.  I want you to stay here and watch and see how far the level of the water dips when I do that." 

"Okay, Daddy.”  They're excited.  So you can see this only works because they were little; right?

Dennis:  Yes, sure.

Bruce:  So I went out there, and did that, and scooped up the water.  "Did it change?"  "No, Daddy."  I said, "Look again.  Come on now, look real carefully."  So I scooped up the water.  "Did it change?"  "No, Daddy." 

I came back and got down on my knees, eye-level with my girls, and I said, "Now, girls, look at that ocean.  I came out here, and I scooped up all the water I can in the hollow of my two hands, and you can't tell anything has changed.  Can you imagine a hand so big that if it came down and scooped up water, that ocean bed would be dry?  That's how big God is."

Dennis:  Yes.

Bob:  Get the biggest bucket you can and say, "Okay, how much—we've got a gallon here; we've got two gallons.  Let's see how much it takes to drain the ocean."

Dennis:  The point you're doing is—you're re-introducing or you are introducing your children to the wonder of God.

Bruce:  Yes, which they will not get in their culture; and, sadly, in many of our churches, they won't get this.

Bob:  Bruce, on the concept of sin and helping our children understand their own nature as sinners and the whole nature of sin itself, most of the time it seems to me that parents address sin—I think we did when our kids were growing up—around the issue of obedience.  Sin is when you do something wrong, and you know you've done wrong things.

For me, when I grew up with that idea of sin, I think it gave me the wrong picture as a young adult because I began to see my sin as maybe my bad habits or—I didn't really see it as a fundamental rebellion against the God of the Universe.  How do you help a 7-year-old or an 8-year-old get past thinking that sin is just that you told a fib yesterday and really understand that it's a rebellious act against God?

Bruce:  Well, of course, sin is those things; and you didn't say that it isn't, Bob; but they are those things.  It's what gives rise to them that really is where the heart of sin is—out of a heart that wants to go its own way.  I mean, at the root of our natures, as sinners, is this autonomy, this sense that, “I have the right to define for myself what happiness is,” “What I should be able to do and not do,” “What I should be able to have and not have,” “I have the right to that.”

So what this does is set the stage then for the Gospel, for the opportunity to help train our children that the thing they need most is to have this sinful, rebellious, independent spirit broken as Christ and His work on the cross comes and forgives their sin and remakes them as people who now, with hearts that long more and more—of course, never, in this life, can we do this perfectly—but that long more and more to do what pleases God.

Bob:  Okay, so maybe kids can get this idea that, "Yes, I'm fundamentally selfish," but explaining the Gospel to a child seems a little complex.  In fact, Bruce, I remember I was a high school student, riding to a choir trip one weekend; and I was reading on the bus The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and I remember coming to the point where Aslan makes the exchange for Edmond. 

You know, Edmund has been captured by the White Witch; he is sentenced to die.  Aslan takes the White Witch aside, he talks to her, and then he comes back and says, "It's all settled."  The kids don't know what happened, but Edmund's free.  They're all happy until they learn that Aslan has to die.

I remember closing that book, as a senior in high school, and going, "Oh, I understand what people mean when they say, ‘Jesus died for your sins.’"  I'd heard that for years but really didn't understand it.  How do you help a seven-year-old understand that the solution to their rebellion, the solution to their independence, is in Jesus?

Bruce:  You know part of it, Bob, goes back to the foundation laid earlier—hopefully, in how great God is—which helps us understand why sin is so significant.  If God is not great, sin is not great.  If God is weighty and significant, then what it means to violate our allegiance to Him and our obedience to Him is itself a weighty thing.

We cannot, as finite human beings, provide what is needed to correct that breach of relationship.  Here we then present children with this glorious truth that the very offended God is the One Who devised the plan by which He would offer His own Son.  “Can you believe it?”—to be the means by which the offense I have done is rectified through what Christ does in my place as He bears my sin and pays the penalty for my sin on the cross.

That only makes sense, I think, when you understand how great God is; and it helps us understand the significance, then, of the sin that we have committed.

Dennis:  And in your book, I find it interesting the way you've gone about this.  You have a whole section that basically answers the question, “Who is Jesus?”  And then you have the following section that is entitled, "The Work That Jesus Has Done." 

There are concepts, Bruce, that I think, within the Christian community, we're not certain of.  There are a number of parents who are listening to our broadcast right now who, if they died, they don't know where they'd go.  They don't know where they'd spend eternity.  They aren't sure of their own eternal salvation. 

So how can they introduce their son or daughter to a relationship with Christ and know with certainty, on the basis of God's Word, where they're going to spend eternity?  How would you address a parent right now, then, who is listening, who isn't sure where they would spend eternity?

Bruce:  Oh, my.  Well, the single most important thing is to understand the teaching of God's Word that this God Who made us, Who we rebelled against, Who has every right to condemn us, is the very same God Who has offered His Son to pay the penalty for our own sin through His death on the cross. 

All that is required of us is not works, not some kind of payback for what God has done, but simply accepting, by faith, what God has done for us in Christ.  Why didn't God make it so that we have to do something to earn our salvation?  Because then we'd get the credit for it; wouldn't we?  But in this way, it is not by works; therefore, no one can boast, and all the glory is given to God. 

So, my goodness, if there is a parent out there who doesn't know for himself or herself the future destiny that you have, the only hope we have as sinners is to put our trust in what Christ has done for us in paying the penalty for our sin.  Put your faith in a God who has provided for you what you cannot do yourself, and that is give to you eternal life through the forgiveness of your sins in Christ.

Bob:  Bruce, let me ask you what I think a lot of parents really wrestle with.  A 5-year-old child comes and says, "You know, I would like to pray to ask Jesus to come into my heart."  Mom and Dad are thrilled when a 5-year-old child says that.  Maybe they get together, and Mom talks, reads some Scripture, prays with the child, and then she walks away and goes, "Okay, what just happened there?  Did my child come to faith?  How do I know?  What do I do?" 

How would you coach a parent when a child comes home from Vacation Bible School and says, "I prayed at Vacation Bible School to become a Christian today."  Do we celebrate with the angels in heaven that there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents, or do we scratch our head and go, "I wonder if that really took?"

Bruce:  Right, right.  Well, again, that's a great question, Bob.  I do think this is another area where you walk a fine line, and you can err on either of two sides.  One is, by pooh-poohing the whole thing , "Oh, a 5-year-old, this couldn't be the case," and really depriving—if, in fact, this conversion has taken place—depriving this child, who is now a believer in Christ, of reveling in forgiveness of sin and entering into eternal life.

On the other hand, you don't want to presume immediately that this, in fact, has happened.  So you encourage and say, "Honey, you know, if this was a genuine expression of your life, of your heart and longing, this is wonderful.  I rejoice with you.

“You know, one of the evidences that this is a true belief of your heart is that it will continue.  Let's just keep talking.”  And if it has, my goodness, it's just the beginning of this growth process as this child grows to understand better Who God is, and what their own sin is, and what Christ has done, and the glories of the riches of His Word.

Bob:   Let me jump ahead now, 12 years later; and your five-year-old is now a 17-year-old.  You did see back when they were five some indication that they had a tender heart for God, and they were studying the Word, and a lot going on; but now, at 17, there is no interest in the things of God.  What kind of a conclusion do you draw, as a parent, about what's happened to your child?

Bruce:   Well, you pray.  You pray a lot for those children, and you never give up praying.  You never give up on the power of God to take a hold of that life again.  If there is a longstanding rebellion, disinterest in the things of God, I do think that you, at some point, begin to wonder whether, as a child, this person really did truly come to Christ—truly was converted—because we know from Scripture that the evidence of the work of the Spirit in the life of the person is what helps us know that this person truly has been saved.

On the other hand, there can be these long periods of time; and then someone does come back, the Lord brings them back.  I think we need to wait for that, pray for that, hope for that, and when that happens, I think sometimes it's hard to know for sure if the person was saved originally or if they came to Christ at this point.

Dennis:   You know, there are two things going on here.  One is the simple concept of not hindering your children to come into a relationship with Christ and of always making that invitation real clear.  And frankly, the older I get, the more mysterious the new birth really is.  Jesus compared it to the wind.  You know, you don't see it, you feel it, you see its results; but it's still a bit of a mystery; you know?

Not only, “Not hindering a child” but, secondly, “not giving them false hope” that, because they made a decision when they were young, therefore, they really are a true follower of Christ.  You know, I can't answer that question for every parent because it's a difficult one to call—the question that Bob was asking you here.  What we need, as parents, is we need a way to impart, number one, Who God is. 

Secondly, who we are in light of Who God is, which means, thirdly, we need a Savior.  We need to know God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  This book, Big Truths for Little Hearts—I think there's going to be a lot of parents who benefit from this—aunts and uncles who may have an objective of teaching their nieces and nephews about Who God is because they're the only believer in their family.  In the process of teaching them, you're going to learn a ton, as an adult.

And, Bruce, I want to thank you for not only being a great scholar but for taking those lofty concepts and bringing them down to—well, as I like to say, "putting the cookies on the lower shelf" where most of us live, and where most of us can understand these great truths of Scripture, and begin to apply them in our own lives. 

Thanks for being with us and thanks for helping our listeners, too.  I think a lot of our listeners are really going to benefit from what you've shared here.  Thanks.

Bruce:  Thank you, Dennis.  Thank you, Bob.  It’s been a pleasure to be with you.

Bob:  This has really been great.  In fact, I can imagine a lot of our listeners are going to contact us to find out how they can get a copy of your book, Big Truths for Young Hearts.  We have it in our FamilyLifeToday Resource Center; and you can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, for more information about how to get a copy of the book.  Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com.  You can also call us toll-free at 1-800-FL-TODAY for more information about how to get a copy of Bruce’s book. 

And keep in mind we have a resource that we have developed here at FamilyLife that’s designed to help you press the truth of the incarnation, Jesus’ birth, into the hearts of young children.  It’s an interactive Nativity scene for families called What God Wants for Christmas®, and it has a special message for kids in box number seven.  When they open the different boxes that have the different Nativity pieces in them, box number seven is a special box that has a special message for your child.

You can find out more about the Nativity set, and about the poem that Barbara Rainey has written to go with What God Wants for Christmas, and how you can get the entire package when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com or when you call us toll-free at 1-800-358-6329, that’s 1-800 “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY”.  We will look forward to hearing from you.

Now I want to wrap up this week by letting you know about a special matching-gift opportunity that has been presented to us here during the month of December.  It’s something we’re pretty excited about; but I have to tell you our team has gotten together and we realize that if we’re going to take full advantage of this matching gift opportunity, we really need to make sure all of our listeners know about it and as many of you as possible can respond. 

We recognize for a lot of you things are tight financially.  But we’re coming to you because this is a pretty exciting opportunity for us, and we’re hoping you can do whatever you can do to help us out.  Every donation we receive during the month of December is going to be matched dollar for dollar. 

What that means is that if you can send us $10, we’ll get $10 from that matching-gift fund.  If you send us $50, we’ll get $50 from the matching-gift fund.  Whatever you can do this month, your donation will be matched dollar for dollar. 

So that’s why we’re asking you right now to go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the button that says, “I Care”, and make an end-of-the-year donation; or call

1-800-FL-TODAY.  Make your donation over the phone and know that whatever you give is being matched.  Also know that we really appreciate your participation with us in this matching-gift opportunity that we have during the month of December.  We hope to hear from you.

And we hope you have a great weekend.  Hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend, and I hope you can join us back on Monday.  We’re going to hear a challenging message from Priscilla Shirer.  She was here not long ago and spoke to our staff the morning that she was here.  All of us agreed it was a message we wanted to share with you. 

So that comes up Monday.  You’ll need to have your Old Testament ready.  I think we’re in the book of Judges on Monday; so I hope you will ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­tune in for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We will see you next week for another edition of FamilyLife Today

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas. 

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Fun, engaging conversations about what it takes to build stronger, healthier marriage and family relationships. Join hosts Dave and Ann Wilson with FamilyLife Today® veteran cohost Bob Lepine for new episodes every weekday.

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