FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Sandbox Theology

with Bruce Ware | May 5, 2016
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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.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • 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.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Bruce Ware 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.

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Sandbox Theology

With Bruce Ware
May 05, 2016
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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 in the whale, or the story of Joseph, and 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—well, 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 Thursday, May 5th.



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’ve got some practical suggestions for you today. Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition. You know, I think most of us, as parents, when we’re raising our children, we recognize that we have some responsibility to teach them things about the Bible / things about God—especially, if we’re Christian parents, we realize that.

Dennis: Right.

Bob: So we get storybooks about Bible stories, and we read those to our kids—and there’s nothing wrong with doing that—but I guess I wonder if those storybooks do the job the way it’s supposed 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?” And 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 asked for and needed help on. They wanted to know, “How do I introduce my child to God?”

Bob: Yes.

Dennis: “How can I teach them about who God is, what He is like, and how I should relate to Him?”

Bob: That's simple! You just teach them a big song: [singing] "My God is so BIG, so strong, and so mighty, there's nothing my God cannot do—for you!"—right? [Laughter] That’s all! I mean, they got it right then!

Dennis: Well, 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?

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



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

Bruce: Yes.

Dennis: Now, where do we start? Do we start with a song—that's not a bad place to begin—or the storybooks that Bob mentioned? 

Bruce: Right; right.

Dennis: 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—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. And 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. Honestly, my entire life has been marked by what the Lord did in my life when I read that book. And Tozer—you may remember this very memorable line. He begins Chapter 1 with the statement, "What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us."

Bob: Yes.

Bruce: 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—

Bruce: Oh, is it?

Dennis: —because I love that book too.

Bruce: Yes.

Dennis: 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,”—

Bruce: Yes.

Dennis: —because, if we think wrongly about God, we're not going to think rightly about who we are.

Bruce: No; that’s absolutely right.

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



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. 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? And I'm going to ask you to move off of the soapbox for a moment while I step up on it—

Bruce: Yes. 

Dennis: —because I couldn't agree more. I think the place for that to happen is at home.

Bruce: Yes; absolutely.

Dennis: Most of us, as parents—I think mistakenly believe that we should take them to church to teach them about God.

Bruce: Yes.



Dennis: And 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"—

Bruce: Yes.

Dennis: —playing with your kid in the sandbox—

Bruce: Yes.

Dennis: —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: Yes, yes. 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. You take them outside of their senses. You take them into their imagination—but now, everything in their imagination is not really true / it is fiction—it's the Easter Bunny, or it's fairies, or it's goblins, or whatever else you're reading to them as fiction.

Bruce: Sure.

Bob: 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: Right. 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. 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?"



"Yes, 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." [Laughter] "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—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 scoop up all the water I can in the hollow of my two hands, and you can't tell anything has changed. But 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!"



Bob: Is that what you were thinking? [Laughter]

Dennis: No, I wasn’t thinking that. I thought you were going to go down to the beach and pull out a tape measure—and get out the longest tape measure you could get—and see how much you could measure—

Bruce: Right; right.

Dennis: “Who has measured . . .?”

Bruce: Yes! “…the waters in the hollow of His hand?”—yes.

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." [Laughter]


Bruce: Right; right.


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.


Dennis: Well, not only will they not get the wonder of God, they'll even have certain concepts that attack the very nature of who God is.


Bruce: Yes.


Dennis: And I don't want to get off on a bunny trail—which I'm sure you, as a theology professor—could run with us on / but the whole issue of creation and evolution.


Bruce: Sure; yes.




Dennis: I mean, the attack on the creation of God—of Him creating the earth, and the heavens, and the stars, as a representation of who He is.


Bruce: Yes.


Dennis: It is how we introduce / how we begin to introduce our children to who God is.


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.


Bruce: Yes.


Bob: 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.


Bruce: Right.


Bob: I didn't really see it as a fundamental rebellion against the God of the universe.


Bruce: Right.


Bob: How do you help a seven-year-old or an eight-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: Yes. Well, of course, sin is those things; and you didn't say that it isn't, Bob.


Bob: Right.


Bruce: But they are those things. But 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.” Of course, this is what sin is. God is the One, who has the right, as creator of us—He’s the only One who has the right to define for us what happiness is; and, of course, He knows what it really is. Isn’t that great!?


Bob: Yes.


Bruce: He’s the only one who has the right to define for us what we can have and what we cannot have.




So 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—you used the word, “rebellion”—a heart of independence from God that doesn’t want to submit to God.


Dennis: Yes.


Bruce: And, again, this is so counter-cultural because we live in a culture that despises the notion of submission to authority. We don’t like submission, and we don’t like authority; unless, of course, I’m the authority—then we like that! [Laughter]


Bob: And “You have to submit to me”; right?


Bruce: That’s right!


Dennis: And every toddler lives by the toddler’s creed—


Bruce: Absolutely.


Dennis: —I’ve got this poem—and it basically goes, “I want what I want when I want it,”—


Bob: Yes.


Bruce: Absolutely.


Dennis: —and “That’s the center of the universe; and I’m it.”


Bruce: Yes.


Dennis: And you know what God does? He gives us children that are a reflection of our own natures.


Bruce: Ahhh.


Bob: But wait! If you go to a seven-year-old and you say, “Now, do you realize that, in your own heart, you’re fundamentally selfish and you want what you want? You’re autonomous / you’re rebellious,”—or whatever you’re using.




Isn’t a seven-year-old going to say: “No, I want to please God. You’ve taught me that I should want to please God.” Will they really understand the reality of their own sinful hearts; do you think?


Bruce: I think, if you help them understand that their own desires of heart are fundamentally selfish / that is, they want their own way—I mean, just help them look at how they act with other children.


Dennis: Yes.


Bruce: What happens when the toys come out? Just—you know, think through these various episodes of life—just to say: “You know, this is how I am hard-wired. I am hard-wired to do what I want to do, and I don’t like to submit.” I mean, 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—



—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, when I was a high school student, riding to a choir trip one weekend. I was reading, on the bus, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.


Bruce: Yes.


Bob: And I remember coming to the point where Aslan makes the exchange for Edmund. You know, Edmund has been captured by the white witch, and he is sentenced to die. Aslan takes the white witch aside—he talks to her—then he comes back and says, “It’s all settled.”


Bruce: Yes.


Bob: The kids don’t know what had happened, but Edmund is 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.


Bruce: Yes.


Bob: 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.



And so 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.

But that only makes sense, I think, when you understand how great God is. 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?”


Bruce: Yes.


Dennis: And then you have the following section that is entitled, "The Work That Jesus Has Done."  And each of the chapters are bite-sized chapters that introduce 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?


Bruce: Yes.


Dennis: How would you address a parent, right now, then, who is listening, and 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 [Ephesians 2:9],” 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.


Dennis: And there are two things I want to say to every person who is listening.



First of all, if you've never done that, all you have to do, right now, is either pull off to the side of the road / stop what you're doing and just bow your head. It's not even the posture of your head or the eyes closed—it's the attitude of the heart / of crying out to God in faith of saying: "I receive you as my Savior, my Master, my Lord,” and, “Thank You for forgiving my sins and for giving me eternal life." 

And I'd just encourage you right now—if you aren’t sure where you would spend eternity—don't let another 60 seconds pass without securing where you are going to spend eternity because—what Bruce has just described—you have God's word on it / it's His promise to you. It's not Bruce's promise or mine. He is the One who has said—that person who comes to Him, He will, in no way, cast out. He has promised eternal life. Just do that right now.



And then, if you do that / if you make that commitment—in a moment, Bob's going to talk to you about a free book we'd like to send you that will talk about that new relationship with Christ and how you can grow.

But then, listen to me—especially the parents—and aunts and uncles, who have nieces and nephews—your responsibility is to introduce them to the Savior. That's what Bruce is talking about here. Take these curious little minds and begin to think about how you could explain this great God / this great Son that He sent to planet earth to die on the cross for their sins and then be raised on the third day to offer eternal life. You need to take these same simple truths that we've talked about here and introduce that child to that kind of forgiveness and that kind of hope for the future.


Bob: And it helps to have somebody who has done the hard work for you. Bruce, that’s what you’ve done in the book, Big Truths for Young Hearts.



This is a book that can be read aloud as a family—you can read this at the dinner table. I think older elementary and even middle school kids are going to benefit from it—maybe even more than the younger kids / the younger kids are going to find this a little challenging—not that they can’t catch on to some of what you’re talking about. But I would say: “If you have kids—who are ages eight to sixteen—that’s the sweet spot for the book, Big Truths for Young Hearts: Teaching and Learning the Greatness of God, by Dr. Bruce Ware.

You can go to to get a copy of the book and start using it when you have dinner together, as a family, or when you get together in the living room after dinner is over. Just read a chapter, or just a few pages from each chapter, out loud, and talk about what you’ve learned from the book. The book is called Big Truths for Young Hearts: Teaching and Learning the Greatness of God.



You can order it from us, online, at; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get your copy of Big Truths for Young Hearts. Again, the phone number is 1-800-358-6329; or you can go to and order online.

By the way, when you go to, you’ll find a link there that says, “Two Ways to Live.” We were talking earlier about what it means to put your faith in Christ—to trust Him / to follow Him as your Lord, your Master, your Savior. That link will help spell it out for you. I’d encourage you—if you have any questions about what it means to be a follower of Jesus, to go to and click the link that says, “Two Ways to Live.”

Now, we have got some FamilyLife Today listeners, who live in Glennie, Michigan; and they are celebrating their tenth wedding anniversary today. Scott and Jennifer Harte are FamilyLife Today listeners, who have been married ten years today.



“Congratulations!” to the Hartes on their anniversary.

We think anniversaries are a big deal, here at FamilyLife, because we know what it takes to get to ten, or twenty, or thirty, or forty, or fifty years. We’re celebrating forty years, as a ministry, this year. We’re doing it by celebrating alongside many of the couples, who have been impacted by this ministry over the past forty years. God has used FamilyLife Today to help you go the distance in your marriage. That’s where we want our focus to be as we celebrate forty years of ministry.

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Or you can mail your donation to us at FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.

Now, tomorrow, we want to talk, among other things, about how you help your child understand more about the ministry of the Holy Spirit. So I hope you can join us for that tomorrow.

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 back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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

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