Ignite Your Child's Love for Jesus

April 29, 2021
Focus on the Family

Ignite Your Child’s Love for Jesus

by John Trent, Jane Vogel

What’s FaithLaunch?

You’re about to discover a fun, easy way to do one of the most important things in the world. It’s FaithLaunch: A Simple Plan to Ignite Your Child’s Love for Jesus by John Trent and Jane Vogel.
FaithLaunch isn’t the only method for introducing your child to Jesus, of course. But it’s a good way to do it without pressuring your child, exhausting yourself, or upending your family’s schedule. Each of the 13 “Family Times” takes about 30 to 45 minutes; that’s 30 to 45 minutes of togetherness, not tedium. You might use one Family Time each week for 90 days — or bits and pieces over a longer period. You get to decide, because FaithLaunch is flexible.
The goal is to prepare your child to begin a relationship with God. Since so many children receive Christ as Savior when they’re 4 to 7 years old, each Family Time is written with that age group in mind. But shifting gears for kids ages 8 to 12 is easy; just use the optional activities.
FaithLaunch gives you plenty of fun ways to learn, including three Adventures in Odyssey episodes to listen to. You’ll sculpt with clay, stage a treasure hunt, even tell a story with the help of your child’s action figures or dolls. If you need an excuse to play with your child, here it is! And if you need permission to talk about what’s important, that’s here, too.
The plan for each Family Time is easy to follow. Your goal is clear, and the items you’ll need are listed — right down to snacks you might enjoy. To boost your confidence, things you might say are spelled out in bold type — with answers to questions in parentheses. And you’re always free to adapt the plan to fit you and your child.
There’s a bonus, too — another confidence booster. In Part III of the book you’ll find answers to questions your child might ask about God, the Bible, Jesus, joining God’s family, and more. So there’s no need to panic if your child wants to know something that isn’t on the tip of your tongue!

Adapted from FaithLaunch: A Simple Plan to Ignite Your Child’s Love for Jesus by John Trent, Ph.D., and Jane Vogel (Focus on the Family/Tyndale, 2008)

Launching Your Child’s Faith: What’s the Rush?

Now is the time for you to realize the incredible impact you can have on your child, helping him or her come to Christ and grow in that relationship.

You’ve never been so nervous in your life.
The relentless Florida sun glints off the crystal of your wristwatch as you glance at it for the thousandth time. Didn’t you see these numbers, 11:04 a.m., half an hour ago? History is crawling forward. Half of you wants it to speed up, but the other half wants the clock to stop entirely.
Your stomach grips again as you squint into the distance. For nearly four hours your son has been perched on top of the otherworldly object that towers like a white-and-rust castle against the sapphire sky.
You swallow, and wait. And wait.
Finally a voice comes from the PA system. “T minus 30,” it says. And eventually, “T minus 15 . . . 10 . . . 9 . . . 8 . . . 7 . . .”
You can’t remember your own name now. Your mind is too full of your son’s face, the one in his third-grade school picture with the half-combed hair.
“We’re ready for main engine start!” says the voice from Mission Control.
At this point there should be a roar, then a rush of flame.
But instead there’s . . . silence.
No liftoff. No reaching for the stars.
The astronauts have been dressed for the part. The space shuttle and booster rockets look great on the outside.
But no one loaded any fuel into the tanks, or linked the computers, or actually made any preparations to send your son into space.
Everyone had great intentions.
But it’s a failure to launch.

* * *

Unfortunately, in too many homes of parents who know and love Jesus, that picture closely resembles what happens when kids grow up and are ready to “launch out” on their own.
Depending on which study you want to quote, anywhere from 50 to 70 percent of children from evangelical Christian families won’t embrace the faith as their own when they leave for college. That’s tragic. When it comes to faith transference, we’re losing the next generation.
Let me shoot straight: It’s not the churches’ fault. I think the level of ministry excellence in churches today—for the two hours or so that a family is in the building — has never been higher! The music and PowerPoint presentations and kids’ and youth programs are light years ahead of where they’ve been in the past. Yet more and more young people are never getting off the launch pad when it comes to personally accepting Christ and growing in their faith.
Here’s one reason why.
Recently I asked several hundred parents of younger children at a large church three questions.

  1. “Do you think it’s important to pass down your faith to your children?” As you might expect, more then 90 percent said, “Yes! It’s very important!”
  2. “Do you think your child will have a strong faith when he or she gets out of college?” Again, 90 percent of those responding said, “You bet!”
  3. “Outside of going to church, what are you doing intentionally to introduce and build a growing faith in your child?” Fewer than 30 percent were doing anything purposefully to meet that goal during the 166 hours a week their children were at home.

Think about that. These wonderful, godly, well-intentioned parents strongly believed they should be involved in their children’s faith development. They also were highly confident that their children would embrace the faith by the time they were on their own. But when it came to actually preparing their kids, they were just dressing them up and dropping them off at church — and setting themselves up for a failure to launch.
But that doesn’t have to be true in your home.
Now is the time for you to realize the incredible impact you can have on your child, helping him or her come to Christ and grow in that relationship. You can do it!
It’s not rocket science to help your child reach God’s best for his or her life. It’s small things, even fun things. They’ll go a long way toward filling up those boosters that lift your son or daughter into a lifelong faith.

The Launch Window Is Now

Maybe you’ve heard the statistics. Researchers agree that most people who receive Christ as Savior do so when they’re children.
The message to parents has seemed clear enough: Now’s the time for you to invest in your child coming to faith. And the best place for that to happen is right in your home. One survey found that half of those who received Christ by age 12 did so at the prompting of their parents, with an added 20 percent following the lead of another relative or friend.
No matter how wonderful your church may be, most successful launches happen at or near home. That doesn’t have to scare you, even if you’re a first-generation Christian like me. I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, so I never saw anyone model faith transference. My wife, Cindy, didn’t see an active, growing faith displayed in her home, either.
Yet both our children know and love the Lord today, as one finishes graduate school and the other gets ready for college. We truly believe it’s because we did — without knowing how or why — many of the things you’ll find in the FaithLaunch program.
Cindy and I didn’t “launch” our relationship with Christ when we were children. Our own stories prove that children can accept the Lord when they’re at voting age or older. So if your older child doesn’t respond to God’s invitation before adulthood, the story may be far from over.
Still, the benefits of following Jesus begin in this life. Since you want the best for your child, you want him or her to start receiving those benefits as soon as possible. Children face more challenges today then ever, and at a younger age; introducing them to Christ now, while they’re young, is the most important gift you can give them.
It will be an incredible blessing to you as well. The aging apostle John said this about his spiritual children: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4). That’s true for any parent of older or grown children who sees them making good decisions and living a life of faith and love for Christ.

Adapted from FaithLaunch: A Simple Plan to Ignite Your Child’s Love for Jesus by John Trent, Ph.D., and Jane Vogel (Focus on the Family/Tyndale, 2008)

Launching Your Child’s Faith: Too Hard or Too Scary?

Take a look at seven common faith-launching worries parents face.

Marilyn’s parents seemed satisfied when they coached her to pray the “sinner’s prayer” at age five. Her mother hugged her, calling it a “great moment” in the girl’s life — and it certainly seemed like it was! She’d said the “right” words, after all.
But Marilyn’s heart wasn’t in this journey. Her interest in Christianity had begun and ended with that prayer. By the time she was a teenager, she hated her life. Today she’s turned her back on the “fundamentalism” of her childhood, vowing to spend the rest of her days learning to “be herself.”
As Marilyn’s story demonstrates, the goal of faith-launching is to cultivate an eternal, personal relationship with God. It’s not just to get our child to say words that make us relax or feel better.
That’s not to say that “praying the prayer” or having a specific “launch day” isn’t important. The act of believing in Jesus, wanting forgiveness for sins, and saying so is an indispensable beginning.
But ignoring the rest of the flight plan can lead to shortcuts that endanger your “astronaut.” Parents who aim only to hear the “right words” from a very young child may be tempted to “get this out of the way” as if it were an awkward talk about the birds and the bees. They may fail to supply their kids with enough information as they grow up to make a real, lasting choice. To use a more biblical word picture, they may build a house on sand, not rock.

Launchpad Jitters

“Hey,” you might say. “Aren’t you supposed to be encouraging me? I’m already nervous about this faith-launching stuff, and you’re just telling me all the things that can go wrong.”
Sorry. If you’re anxious about helping your child become a Christian, it’s understandable. You may think it’s all up to you. You may think that if you “fail,” the launch window will slam shut and no one will ever be able to reach your child.
Or perhaps you’re more worried about how this process might affect your relationship with your son or daughter. What if your child rejects you for acting “weird” when you try to bring up “spiritual things”? What if he or she won’t “go along” when you ask for a decision about following Jesus? Will things get awkward — or worse?
Let’s look at seven common faith-launching worries parents face — and why you don’t have to feel overwhelmed by them.

  1. I’m not an expert on Christianity. Good! That means you’ll be able to talk with your child in plain English, not theological jargon. If you don’t quite grasp concepts like the Trinity and original sin, relax. Use a resource like FaithLaunch, which describes them as simply as possible so that you can do the same for your child.
  2. My own relationship with God isn’t going too well. If you believe the basics — that we can receive forgiveness by placing our faith in Christ — you’re qualified to address the subject with your child. It’s important to deal with your doubts, disappointments, and temptations with the help of a pastor or other mature believer, but waiting for perfection isn’t necessary. In fact, you might even find the process to be a faith-builder for you.
  3. My kid has the attention span of a Chihuahua on caffeine. Are you afraid of boring your child? Whether the cause is ADHD or just too many video games, a short attention span doesn’t have to torpedo your takeoff. FaithLaunch is one program that features a wide variety of brief activities, not a bunch of lectures. You can take things at your child’s pace, and in bite-sized pieces.
  4. I’m no teacher. Fortunately, this doesn’t have to be a class. It can be a series of family times — kind of a cross between game night, a devotional, and baking cookies together. You’re the leader, but there’s no standing at a chalkboard and delivering a memorized lesson. It’s as natural as spending time with your child to play with the cat, listen to a song on the radio, or work together on a model plane.
  5. I have to do this alone. If you’re a single parent, or if you’re married but your spouse is reluctant to help, you may need to lead as a team of one. No, make that two: God knows all about your situation. In the case of FaithLaunch, family times have been prepared with you in mind; you won’t be required to do anything a mom or dad can’t do. If you really need flesh-and-blood support, though, you might consider inviting a friend and his or her child to join you.
  6. My kid doesn’t seem interested in God. If you haven’t talked with your child much about faith before, suddenly immersing yourselves in the subject may seem jarring. You may assume your child isn’t interested, yet it’s likely he or she has questions but hasn’t raised them. Rather than leaping in headlong, you might prepare your child for a couple of weeks beforehand by occasionally asking questions of your own (“Who do you think gave that caterpillar all those legs?”) and mentioning your own faith (“I’ll be sure to pray about your spelling test tomorrow”).
  7. I’m afraid I’ll do it wrong and I’ll never have another chance. The good news is that there are a million ways to do it right. You can blend a resource like FaithLaunch with your personality, your child’s interests, your family’s schedule, your home’s layout, your favorite snacks. Share the truths in your own words, and let your child respond without insisting on the “right” answer.

Count on the all-powerful God to use your less-than-perfect efforts — in His own time. When it comes to launch windows, He’s able to open a lot more than doors.

Adapted from FaithLaunch: A Simple Plan to Ignite Your Child’s Love for Jesus by John Trent, Ph.D., and Jane Vogel (Focus on the Family/Tyndale, 2008)

How We Know God Is There: A FaithLaunch Family Time

Try using this activity to teach your kids about the existence of God.

by Jane Vogel

Mission Control: Where You’re Headed

You’ll help your child discover that we can know God because He teaches us about Himself in His creation and His Word.

1. Blast Off: Getting Started

What you need:

  • five lunch bags labeled “B,” “I,” “B,” “L,” and “E”
  • non-breakable objects starting with the letters B, I, B, L, and E (example: ball, ice cream scoop, book, lime, eraser)

Without your child seeing the objects, put each in the bag with the corresponding letter. Staple the bags shut.
Lay out the bags so that they spell “BIBLE.” Challenge your child to guess what’s in each bag by handling it but not opening the bag. Explain that the object starts with the letter on the bag. (This game is even more fun if several people are guessing, so involve as many family members as possible.)
After everyone playing has guessed, open the bags and see if any guesses were correct. Then ask:

  • Which objects were easy to guess? Why?
  • Which were hard to guess? Why?

Point out that the shape of the object helped you know about the object — you could see the shape a little, and you could touch it.
Say: Because God is a spirit, we can’t see or touch Him. How can we know about Him? Affirm as many of your child’s answers as you can; then say something like this: We can know God because He tells us about Himself. Let’s see what the Bible has to say about how God lets us know about Himself.

2. Exploration: Discovering Truth

What you need:

  • a Bible
  • a favorite Bible verse or passage about God

Read aloud Psalm 19:1-4. Help your child understand that the Bible says we can learn about God from nature — the “heavens” or skies, and all the other things God created.
Go outside, find something in nature that can remind you about God, and share it with your child. If you can’t go outside or can’t find anything “natural,” search an appropriate website, a nature book, or a picture book that has lots of scenes from nature in it.
What you say will depend on your child’s maturity. Young children think concretely; a good example might be an ant or some other tiny thing. You could say something like, This tiny ant shows me how perfectly God can make even the littlest things. I could never make something this small without smashing it, but God can! If He’s so careful in making a tiny ant, I know He must be really careful about taking care of you!
Next, invite your child to find something to show you and to tell you what he or she can learn about God from it.
Now share a favorite Bible passage with your child — one that describes God or how He feels about us. Here are some possibilities:

  • Matthew 10:29-31 (God knows all about us and values us highly.)
  • Deuteronomy 4:35 (There is only one God.)
  • Psalm 74:12-17 (God is like a king — but so powerful He can control the sea, day and night, sun and moon, and the seasons.)

Wrap us this part of your Family Time with a comment along these lines: We can know about God through the things He’s made — and through His Book, the Bible.

Alternate Flight Plan: Options for Ages 8-12

We learn about God through the Bible, but is what we learn there true? Younger children usually don’t raise questions about the Bible’s reliability, but some older children may. If your child is wondering why he or she should trust Scripture, you might share the following reasons adapted from the book Stand by Alex McFarland (Focus on the Family/Tyndale, 2005).

  1. The Bible has been preserved and is indestructible. It’s outlived all its enemies. Existing manuscripts indicate that it’s been accurately copied through the centuries.
  2. There is unity to the Bible. Even though it was written by about 40 individuals over a period of 1,500 years, it contains a consistent message.
  3. The Bible is supported by archaeology. Discoveries by archaeologists over the years have shown over and over again that the Bible is accurate in its historical facts.
  4. The Bible has fulfilled prophecy. It’s predicted events hundreds of years in advance.

3. Reentry: Bringing the Truth Home

What you need:

  • Bible
  • large sheet of paper
  • markers or crayons
  • tape

Provide an age-appropriate story Bible, paraphrase, or translation for your child to keep. Write his or her name and the date on the presentation page if there is one. Help him or her make a personalized cover for the Bible, using a large sheet of paper and markers or crayons.
If the Bible has special features such as “fun facts” or devotional readings, point those out. Ask your child to pick a place to keep the Bible so that it doesn’t get lost.

4. Splashdown: Applying What You’ve Learned

What you need:

  • letter in envelope

Before your Family Time, write an encouraging note to your child and seal it in an envelope. Address it to your child and draw a postage stamp on it, but don’t include your name or return address.
Ask: Who do you think this letter might be from?
What do you think it’s about?
Challenge your child to figure out the answers to those questions in one minute without opening the envelope. When time is up, let him or her try to guess the sender and the contents. Then have your child open the envelope and read the note (or read it to him or her).
Next, say something like this:
Suppose you got a letter from the President [or Prime Minister]. Note: Very young children may relate better to a letter from Grandma or Grandpa.
What would you do when the letter came? Would you open it and read it (or have someone read it to you), or would you leave it unopened?
How is the Bible like a letter to us from God?
What should we do — open it and read it, or leave it unopened? Why?
As needed, point out that the best way to find out what God wants to tell us about Himself is to open His letter and read it. Take a moment to thank God for making Himself known through nature and through the Bible.

Space Snack

What you need:

  • a treat with honey in it

Want to wrap up with refreshments? Read Psalm 119:103: “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth.” Explain that this verse is talking about God’s words—the kind found in the Bible. Serve a snack that contains honey; discuss how sweet it is. How could God’s Word be sweeter?

Adapted from FaithLaunch: A Simple Plan to Ignite Your Child’s Love for Jesus by John Trent, Ph.D., and Jane Vogel (Focus on the Family/Tyndale, 2008)

Trouble in the Garden: A FaithLaunch Family Time

Try using this activity to teach your kids that sin separates us from God.

by Jane Vogel

Mission Control: Where You’re Headed

You’ll help your child grasp the fact that our sin separates us from God.

1. Blast Off: Getting Started

What you need:

  • materials for making a model of the Garden of Eden (small plastic building blocks, animal figurines, real or artificial plants, etc.)
  • a small figure to represent each person participating

It’s creative construction time! Gather materials to create a miniature Garden of Eden with your child. It can be whatever size you like. The goal is to have fun and make your model as awesome as you can.
Depending on your child’s interests and the materials on hand, you might use any of the following:

  • farm or circus animal figures
  • trees and flowers from playsets
  • a dirt-filled flower pot into which you’ve transplanted plants or inserted cut flowers and twigs
  • plants and animals cut from construction paper
  • “ponds” made of aluminum foil or water in plastic margarine tubs

If your climate and setting permit, try this project outside. Don’t rush; enjoy working on it together, using the time to recall some things you’ve learned so far about God’s good creation.
When you’ve created your Eden, choose a figure (or model one from clay or foil) to represent each of you. Put the figures in the “Garden.”

2. Exploration: Discovering Truth

What you need:

  • a Bible
  • modeling clay or dough

Model one more thing — a snake — out of clay or dough. Put that in the Garden, too.
Read Genesis 3 from a child-friendly translation or children’s Bible, or retell the account in language your child will understand. As you tell the story, have your child act it out with the figures in your Garden.

3. Reentry: Bringing the Truth Home

Check your child’s understanding by having him or her summarize the story for you, using the Garden and figures as props.
Then ask:

  • What would the world be like if people had never disobeyed God?
  • How do you think Adam and Eve felt when they got kicked out of the Garden?
  • How do you think God felt?

Alternate Flight Plan: Options for Ages 8-12

If you think your child will see making a model Garden of Eden as a “baby” activity, try doing some “kid on the street” interviews instead. In person or via phone or instant messaging, help your child ask friends and family questions like the following:

  • Who lived in the Garden of Eden?
  • Who was created first — Adam or Eve?
  • What kinds of fruit were okay to eat in the Garden?
  • Which kind wasn’t? Why?
  • Why did Adam and Eve eat it anyway?
  • What happened then?
  • What does this story have to do with us?

Then help your child check people’s answers against the Genesis 3 account. If your interviews are in person, you may want to document them with camcorder or sound recorder and share them with the rest of the family later.

4. Splashdown: Applying What You’ve Learned

What you need:

  • a Bible
  • craft sticks
  • marker
  • modeling clay or dough

Read Romans 3:23. Explain that we, like Adam and Eve, have disobeyed God. This is called sin, and it separates us from God just as the sin of Adam and Eve did.
Ask your child to name things that kids and moms and dads do wrong. Be as specific as possible. Here are suggestions to prompt your thinking:

  • not sharing a toy or game
  • talking back to parents instead of obeying
  • sneaking more time to play video games by pretending to forget the time limit
  • calling someone at school a name
  • picking a fight with a sibling to get him in trouble
  • being jealous of another family’s bigger TV
  • lying about whether you did a chore
  • cheating on a test

As your child names each sin, write it on a separate craft stick (or draw a symbol, for pre-readers), push the stick into a bit of clay or dough, and use the sticks to build a fence separating the figures from the Garden.
When you’ve built a sizable fence, talk a little about how our sins are like a wall between us and God. Ask how it feels to be shut out of a place your child would really like to be — a party, a theme park, a movie, a toy store.
Assure your child that God is just as eager as we are to knock down the fence and bring us close to Him. You’ll be talking more about that in a future Family Time.

Alternate Flight Plan: Options for Ages 8-12

If you didn’t make a Garden of Eden model and don’t want to build a fence of craft sticks, here’s another way to introduce the idea of being “shut out” by sin. Have your child write kinds of disobedience on strips of crepe paper and tape them over the entrance to his or her room. Announce, tongue in cheek, that he or she will be sleeping in the bathroom from now on. Discuss the kinds of lifestyle changes such an “exile” would require.

Space Snack

What you need:

  • ice cream
  • chocolate cookies or chocolate graham crackers
  • sealable plastic bag
  • gummy worms
  • bowls

Want to wrap up with refreshments? Try “garden sundaes.” Give your child a bowl of ice cream. Let him or her crush chocolate cookies or chocolate graham crackers in a plastic bag and pour the resulting “dirt” on the ice cream. Add gummy worms as desired.

Adapted from FaithLaunch: A Simple Plan to Ignite Your Child’s Love for Jesus by John Trent, Ph.D., and Jane Vogel (Focus on the Family/Tyndale, 2008)

Joining God’s Family: A FaithLaunch Family Time

Try using this activity to teach your kids that God wants us to be part of His family.

by Jane Vogel

Mission Control: Where You’re Headed

You’ll help your child see that God wants us to be part of His family — and that because of Jesus, we can.

1. Blast Off: Getting Started

What you need:

  • treasure hunt clues on sticky notes (see below)
  • a picture of yourself
  • small prize

Before Family Time, set up a “treasure hunt” with clues for your child to follow. On each clue, include not only the hint or directions to the next clue, but also a brief note telling your child how much you love him or her.
If you can tie the love note into the location, that’s even better! For example, “I love reading with you. Go to our favorite reading spot,” could lead to the chair you sit in together when you read to your child.
Have the last clue lead to the “treasure”: a picture of you.
Follow your child during the treasure hunt, helping with clues and collecting them. When you reach the treasure, ask: What do you think of this treasure?
Chances are your child will be a little disappointed — especially if he or she was expecting candy or money. Reach into your pocket and produce another treasure — a prize like a dollar bill.
Ask: What do you think of this treasure?
Your child may be more enthused about the prize than about your picture. Say: This picture stands for me. If you didn’t have this treasure [point to yourself] would you have this one [hold up the prize]?
Give your child the prize. Explain that there are two kinds of treasures — the people who love us, and the things those people give us because they love us. We need to remember not just the things, but the people, too.

Alternate Flight Plan: Options for Ages 8-12

Most older kids like treasure hunts, too. To keep it fun for your older child, make the clues more challenging. Include rhyming or visual clues — even math problems.
Here’s an example: “You’ll find the next clue in a 3.14159265 pan.” The answer: “Pi (pie) pan.”

2. Exploration: Discovering Truth

What you need:

  • Bible
  • the clues from your treasure hunt
  • sticky note
  • pen or pencil

Show your child the notes from the treasure hunt. Ask: Why do you think I wrote these to you?
Your child may give any number of responses; here are some possibilities, along with ways to tie them into the truth that God wants to have a relationship with us.

  • “You wrote the notes and clues because you’re my mommy/daddy.”

That’s right! So I wrote you notes to tell you that I love you. God is your heavenly Father, and He loves you, too. Did you know that He wrote you notes to tell you He loves you? They’re in the Bible.

  • “You wrote the notes and clues so I could find the treasure.”

Yes! I wanted you to find the treasure because I love you. God loves you, too, and He has an even better treasure for you — eternal life with Jesus. He wrote to you in the Bible to tell you how you can have that treasure.

  • “You wrote the notes and clues because you like to read with me [or whatever you might have written in a note].”

I do like to read with you! I like being with you. God likes being with you, too. He even wants us to come live with Him forever someday.
Open the Bible to 1 John 3:1a and read it aloud.
God wants us to be part of His family! Because of Jesus, we can be God’s children.
Ask: Do you know what Jesus did that made it possible to be God’s children? After your child responds, confirm or clarify his or her answer by reading 1 John 2:12.
Explain that this is one of God’s “notes” to you and your child, and it’s worth remembering. Then help your child write or draw a summary of the verse on a sticky note.

Alternate Flight Plan: Options for Ages 8-12

Use the word “relationship” with older kids. Ask them what kind of relationship they like to have with a friend, with you, and with a sibling. What kind of relationship would they like to have with God?
Help them understand the kind of relationship God would like to have with them by looking at John 14:23-27 and John 15:14-16. Then ask them to summarize the verses on a sticky note or two.

3. Reentry: Bringing the Truth Home

What you need:

  • the sticky notes from your treasure hunt

Collect the “love note” clues from your treasure hunt. Let your child decide where to put them (on his or her bedroom door, the bathroom mirror, etc.) as a reminder that you and God love your child. The only rule: No more than three notes may be posted in any one room. That should help ensure that your child encounters the messages as often as possible.

4. Splashdown: Applying What You’ve Learned

What you need:

  • ice cubes
  • mitten or glove

Give your child an ice cube; see how long he or she can hold it before wanting to get rid of it because it’s cold or messy. Then let your child wear a mitten or glove to warm up his or her hand.
Ask: Which does God want to be like to you — an ice cube that’s cold and hard, or a mitten that’s warm and protects you?
As needed, point out that God wants to be warm, close, and loving to the members of His family. That’s why He invites us to join His family by believing in His Son, Jesus.
If your child hasn’t responded to that invitation yet, ask whether he or she would like to do so now. If the answer is yes, you may want to lead your child in a prayer like this:

Dear God,
I know that without You I’m messed up. I know that I sin — I do things that are wrong and don’t do things I should. You said You love me even though I’m still a sinner. Will You please forgive me and give me a new start?
I want You to be my heavenly Father. I believe Your Son, Jesus, died to pay the price for my sin and rose to life again. I accept Him as my Savior to rescue me, and as my Lord to be in charge of my life.
In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

If the answer is no, don’t press. You may want to pray with your child, though, asking God to help him or her to discover the treasure of getting to know the One who loves us so much.

Space Snack

What you need:

  • a “treasure” snack (see below)

In keeping with the “treasure” theme, you may want to try one of the following treats:

  • foil-wrapped chocolate coins
  • any food that hides one ingredient inside another (celery sticks filled with peanut butter or cheese, cream-filled snack cakes, etc.)
Adapted from FaithLaunch: A Simple Plan to Ignite Your Child’s Love for Jesus by John Trent, Ph.D., and Jane Vogel (Focus on the Family/Tyndale, 2008)

How to Answer Your Child’s Faith Questions, Part 1

Here are some answers to questions your child may ask about God.

Q: How Do We Know Jesus Is Really God’s Son?

Your children will face those who say that Jesus never really lived or that He wasn’t really God. You can help prepare them for this by making sure their faith in Him is solidly grounded.
For biblical testimonies from eyewitnesses, see passages like Acts 2:22, 24, 32, 36 and 2 Peter 1:16. But can you “prove” to your children that Jesus really lived? Perhaps not. Still, you can offer convincing evidence. If you like, read the following to them or share it in your own words.

  • Eyewitness accounts: The Bible is our main source for information about Jesus. Is the Bible accurate? It’s been shown to tell the truth about so much else that you can be confident it tells the truth about Jesus. Those who wrote the Gospels were convinced that what they’d seen and heard was real. Their books were written when others who’d been there were still alive. If the Gospel writers had been telling lies, these others would certainly have exposed them — but they didn’t.
  • Extra-biblical sources: The Bible isn’t the only book that mentions Jesus. Others who wrote not long after He lived show that He was a real, historical person. Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian who lived around A.D. 70, mentioned Jesus, saying that He was condemned to death by Pilate and then appeared alive again on the third day. Josephus also mentioned Jesus when he told how James, Jesus’ brother, was killed. Then there’s a letter from a leading Roman, Tacitus (around A.D. 112), mentioning that Jesus was put to death under Pilate. And some Jewish teachers of the time referred to Jesus or Yeshua.
  • Jesus claimed He was God. As C. S. Lewis wrote, there are only three things you can believe about Jesus’ claim: He is who He says He is (God and Lord); He was a liar who knew He was lying; or He just thought He was telling the truth when He wasn’t (in other words, He was a lunatic). Lots of people would agree that Jesus was a great teacher of right and wrong. If He was, He couldn’t be a liar. Was He crazy? None of His other words or actions suggest that He was. The only possibility left is that He’s who He claims to be — Lord.
  • Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus died, yet three days later He was alive again. What happened? The Romans made sure Jesus was dead. His body was wrapped in cloths with spices, which made the grave clothes stick to the body — very difficult to remove. He was placed in a burial chamber cut into solid rock, its one exit covered by a huge stone that took several people to move. Soldiers guarded the tomb; they knew that sleeping on the job brought a death penalty.
  • Three days later, the tomb was empty. The huge stone had been moved away from the tomb; the grave clothes were empty as if Jesus’ body had passed right through them. The soldiers were bribed to say they’d fallen asleep, yet they were not punished for it. More than 500 people saw Jesus alive after His death. And the disciples were never the same, changing from scared people hiding from the authorities to bold people who were willing to suffer beatings and even death. Knowing Jesus rose from the dead helped them to be bold.
  • How do we know Jesus is the Messiah? One way is through the predictions that Jesus fulfilled — 60 major Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah! For instance, Micah 5:2 predicted that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem; Genesis 49:10 foresaw that He would be from the tribe of Judah; Psalm 16:10 hinted that He would be raised from the dead.

Q: Why Did Jesus Have to Die?

Most younger children can grasp a very basic explanation. It might be expressed this way:
“Everyone, even you, does some wrong things. These wrong things are sin and make God sad. But God loves us so much that He sent His Son, Jesus. Jesus died for us so that we could be forgiven and could be God’s children. Just as you need to tell me you’re sorry when you’ve done something wrong, you need to tell God you’re sorry for doing wrong things and ask Him to forgive you because of what Jesus did. He will. From then on, you are God’s child. And if you do anything wrong after that, you can ask God to forgive you and help you do better — and He will.”
If your older child wonders why the sacrifice of Jesus was necessary, you may want to share the following:

  • “Why did Jesus have to die? He didn’t have to. He chose to, out of love.
  • “God loves the world. He wants to have with everyone the kind of close relationship He had with Adam and Eve in the very beginning. The only way to do that was to take care of the sin problem.
  • “God made people and chose to be their Father. He chose to be responsible for them. Parents pay for what their children break. If parents don’t pay, who will? The child usually can’t. In a similar way, God made Himself responsible to pay for the thing His children “broke” — their relationship with Him. He did this knowing what it would cost, because He was a loving Father. If He didn’t pay for it, who could? No one.
  • “The punishment for sin is death. Since everyone sins, everyone would have to pay the death penalty. Only someone who was not born sinful could die for others. Everyone else could die only for himself or herself. The only perfect Person is Jesus. He defeated Satan and sin when He died and rose again. This is why Jesus is the only way to God.”

To further help your child understand this, try the following:

  • Younger children may be baffled by the idea that Jesus “died on the cross,” especially if they don’t understand what death is. If you sense that a discussion of death would scare your preschooler, rather than inform, concentrate on talking about the love and actions of Jesus, especially the fact that He came to rescue us. When your child is ready to understand what it meant for Jesus to give His life, explain that part of the salvation story.
  • Do you use time-outs, spankings, or lost privileges to discipline your child? Try mentioning these as you explain the concept of sin and how Jesus paid the price for ours. Children will understand how wrong acts displease God because they know how you respond when they disobey. Explain that wrong actions put a wide space between your children and God — one they can’t cross alone. That’s why Jesus came — to make a way for them to cross back to God and be forgiven. If your children have already accepted Jesus, emphasize that they can go to God anytime, about anything, and ask Him to forgive them when they’ve done something wrong.
Adapted from Rick Osborne, K. Christie Bowler, and John Duckworth, Parents’ Guide to the Spiritual Growth of Children (Wheaton, Ill.: Focus on the Family/Tyndale House Publishers, 2000), pp. 277-384. John Trent, Rick Osborne, and Kurt Bruner, eds.

How to Answer Your Child’s Faith Questions, Part 2

Here are more answers to questions your child may ask about God.

Q: What Does It Mean to Have a “Relationship with God”?

Jesus died for your children so that their sins could be forgiven. But why? So that they could have a close relationship with God, their heavenly Father!
Make sure your children know that God is eager to have a relationship with them. In the words of John 14:23, “Jesus replied, ‘If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.'”
God wants a special friendship with your kids, one He can have with no one else because each child is one of a kind. In this private relationship they get to know God in their own unique way.
Children need to know that deciding to accept Jesus as Savior is the beginning, not the end. Getting to know God is something exciting they’ll be doing for the rest of their lives. Here are some ways to help your kids understand that:

  • Let your children see how your relationship with God works. Allow them to hear you pray honestly and conversationally; encourage them to pray the same way, even about things that may seem trivial. Tell them about something God has taught you from the Bible. Talk about times when you’ve felt especially close to God. If you sometimes feel far from Him, admit it; if it’s sometimes hard to relate to a Person who’s invisible and doesn’t speak to you audibly, admit that, too. Tell them what you would miss most if you couldn’t have a relationship with God. As children learn that a relationship with God can be very real even if it has ups and downs, they’ll have more realistic expectations as they begin their own.
  • Create visual reminders of the relationship between your children and God. Have children draw pictures of themselves hiking with Jesus, for example. Or cut a picture of Jesus from a Sunday school paper and add it to a family portrait. Post these reminders where your children will see them frequently.

Q: Why Should I Obey God?

Your children won’t always understand why God says to do something. But if you’re teaching them who God is and what His character is like, they’ll be more likely to trust that His way is best. Children also need to know that, whether they understand the reason or not, it’s vital to obey. Their obedience does not depend on their understanding; He is, after all, God.

  • When using Bible stories to show how to live God’s way, help your children make the connection between the Bible characters’ acts and the results. For example, Joseph was faithful to God. He suffered for a time in prison, but later God rewarded his faithfulness, making Joseph the second most important man in Egypt.
  • It’s easy when you’re tense or hurried to answer your children’s questions with “Because I said so.” But this reasoning doesn’t help them understand that your instructions are for their own good; it doesn’t help them trust you. In the same way, “Because God says so” is inadequate. God doesn’t just tell us what to do in the Bible; He often tells us why. If you don’t know the why behind a command, look it up — or ask someone who’s studied the issue.
  • Many children are fascinated by the human body and how it works. Using age-appropriate books, explore with your children the amazingly intricate way in which God has created us — from our infection-fighting blood cells to our self-mending skin. Point out that God knows everything about us because He made us; we need to respect Him and obey Him because He’s our Creator.
  • Who knows the best way to use a computer, mountain bike, or video camera? The person who designed and made it! Explain to your child that the designer can tell you how everything was meant to work, how to get the most out of that thing, and what not to do with it. As the designer of life, God knows better than anyone else how life works. It only makes sense to abide by His guidelines.
  • While following God’s instructions does lead to the best kind of life, that kind of life isn’t necessarily the easiest kind. Doing the right thing can get us in trouble here on earth. People have, after all, been killed for obeying God. Point out to your children that real success in this life is pleasing God — and we may not see the rewards until we’re in heaven.

For your children, turning their lives over to God means agreeing that He knows what’s best for them, and that He has a great plan for their lives. It means entrusting their dreams and ambitions to His care (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Q: Why Is Following Jesus Hard?

“Being a Christian is just too hard!” If your children feel that way, they’ll appreciate the truth that we don’t have to live the Christian life under our own power (Philippians 1:6). Let them know that their part is mainly to cooperate with what God wants to do in their lives. He’s right there, ready to help them become more like His Son.
Point out to children that if they’ve received Jesus as Savior, God is with them continuously through His Spirit who teaches them from His Word, reminds them of His way, and gives them strength to make the right choices when they ask for it. God is for them, cheering them on, helping them grow to the next step.

  • When children do the wrong thing and feel guilty about it, they may wonder whether trying to follow Jesus is a lost cause. Assure them that God is never surprised by our mistakes or sins. If anything, He works to bring these into the open so that we know about them and can deal with them. God is there when we blow it; the best Person to talk to right then is God Himself, as we ask Him to forgive us and to help us obey Him more completely.
  • Children may be confused over how much of the Christian life is up to them and how much is up to God. Explain that God doesn’t do it all, moving us around and talking through us as if we were ventriloquist’s dummies. God is more like a coach, ready to help us learn how to be and what to do. We can choose to cooperate with Him or not. God helps us love, for instance, but doesn’t do it for us. That has to come from our hearts.
Adapted from Rick Osborne, K. Christie Bowler, and John Duckworth, Parents’ Guide to the Spiritual Growth of Children (Wheaton, Ill.: Focus on the Family/Tyndale House Publishers, 2000), pp. 277-384. John Trent, Rick Osborne, and Kurt Bruner, eds.

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