Episode 128 Replay: Todd R. Hains Interview and How to Disciple Our Children

We are replaying our talk with Todd R. Hains who is a writer and editor and dad. He’s got some great pointers and ideas for truly discipling our children well. We will be back for Season 6 of “Books that Spark” in a couple weeks. Be sure to subscribe or join our mailing list on our homepage to be notified when new episodes are posted.

Our Guest: Todd R. Hains

Todd R. Hains is an author, editor, and theologian. His work focuses on teaching the Bible and Christian faith according to the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer.

He has written Martin Luther and the Rule of Faith: Reading God’s Word for God’s People (2022) as well as children’s books for Lexham Press’s FatCat Books—The King of Christmas: All God’s Children Search for Jesus (2022) and The King of Easter: Jesus Searches for All God’s Children (2023). He also co-edited the Acts volume (2014) in the Reformation Commentary on Scripture.

As an editor for Lexham, he helps authors write books that love God’s word, the church, and the Christian faith. He launched the Christian Essentials series, Lexham Ministry Guides, and FatCat Books.

Todd holds a doctorate in historical theology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He, his wife, and their two dear sons live in Bellingham, Washington.

You can follow him on Twitter: @hains_todd.

He and his wife, Veronica, have two children and two grey cats―Crumpet and Utini.

Books Discussed in this Episode:

Transcript with Links:

Terrie:

Welcome to “Books That Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Today, our special guest is Todd R. Hains, and he is an editor and also an author of several books, and he works with Lexham Press as an editor. He’s going to share with us today about some wonderful books he’s involved with for our kids. I can’t wait for him to share with you. Thank you, Todd, for being with us today.

Todd:

Thank you for having me, Terrie.

Terrie:

We talk mostly about children’s books on this podcast, so that’s where I want to start. You have two children’s books out, correct?

Todd:

I have one book and one that’s coming out in January. So there’s The King of Christmas is out already and The King of Easter will be out in January for Easter 2023, and then I’m the editor for the other Fat Cat books. The Apostles Creed and The Lord’s Prayer. And right now we’re working on The 10 Commandments.

Terrie:

Oh, that’s wonderful. Okay, well let’s go one by one. Tell us a little bit about the one that’s already out The King of Christmas.

Todd:

The King of Christmas is a little different from the core Fat Cat books. The core Fat Cat books are introducing what’s called the catechism. Often that’s thought of as like Luther’s small catechism, something that brings questions and answers that children memorize, but originally the church just used that name for the 10 Commandments, the Apostles Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer, and that was the core of all Christian instruction. So those first three books, these core ones on The Apostles Creed, The 10 Commandments and The Lord’s Prayer, they’re just helping reintroduce this concept to parents in a way that’s hopefully not intimidating. And so the Christmas and Easter bookThe King of Christmas and The King of Easter, are a little bit different. They’re using the reasoning and logic of the Bible’s catechism to tell the story of Jesus’ birth and Jesus’ death and resurrection. So in The King of Christmas, the story is much simpler than the other books where there’s quite a lot of commentary, and parents need to decide different ways to introduce this to children, especially of young ages. But The King of Christmas is a repeated pattern, the magi and fat cat, they’re looking for The King of Christmas. They see a star and they go hunting for him. So each spread asks “Is the king of Christmas here?” And so they go hunting through the sky and the waters and the field. Finally, they get to Jerusalem and they go to see the thrones of the mighty. Where here it is, the tables of the rich, the forts where the soldiers are, the market where the money changers are, the temple, where the scribes are. And then finally we get to the manger, and there, where animals eat, that’s where The King of Christmas is found. But the story keeps going after that to the cross, the empty tomb, and then the word where Jesus is found. The reason the story continues to extend is that in Matthew 2, when the Magi say, “The king of the Jews” is what they said. That phrase is only used by the Magi, and Pontius Pilate. So there, when we hear the Matthew story, we already are picking up this child, he will die, and he will rise again. And so this story is using Christmas to get all the way to that piece of Jesus story as well, so that wherever we hear Jesus and His name, we receive all of Jesus, all that He’s done and all of His gifts.

Terrie:

Yeah. I had never thought that consciously about how the wise men had asked for a king of the Jews and that they named him that on the cross. And I hadn’t made that connection till I read your book, I just hadn’t thought about that, so I thought that was really wonderful. And then in the back of your book, in the back matter, you offer quite a bit of information for parents and you have kind of an outline for a family devotional time, and I really love that.

Todd:

Thank you.

Terrie:

Share a little bit about that and then also explain the Fat Cat concept, what he stands for.

Todd:

Right. So there is a pretty lengthy note in the back of The King of Christmas, especially in comparison to how little text there is, but part of that is even though the story is simple, it’s connecting pieces of the Bible’s story that aren’t always connected for us. And so I wanted to be sure that parents felt equipped to expand on the story, to know and feel confident that when they look at these pages, they see, Oh, this is from Psalm 19 or Mary’s Magnificat. It’s pulling these pieces of the Bible altogether so that as the children get older, they’re able to explain, “We don’t always hear the story quite like this, and here’s what’s going on,” and it’s still fitting. And then in the back, yeah, is this order of family prayer, and that’s something that’s in all of the Fat Cat books. It is very dear to me. One of my big hopes for these books is that it helps parents pray with their children. Sometimes I find that if I just pray out of my heart, I don’t read a prayer, which I do both read prayers and say them just out of my heart. Sometimes when I say them out of my heart, I find myself saying the same things. I sort of go into cruise mode. You have to be so focused and present to draw out the anxieties and joys of the moment. And so what written prayers can help us with is drawing out the joys and anxieties of a certain moment. So here, these prayers are focused on Christmas, so it begins with some Psalms and verses based around Christmas, and then it goes to the Apostles Creed to help point children and their parents to the wider story, then a moment that parents could invite their children to pray whatever’s on their mind. I find my own children often want to do thanksgiving. Even when I ask, “What do you want to ask God?” They sometimes will say, “I wonder,” but they actually are making a thanksgiving. But usually they just say, “I thank you God,” which is a great reminder to me as a parent that there’s so many little things to give thanks for that I overlook. And then the order of prayer ends with a streamlined prayer based on kind of the story of the book. Just as the Magi found Jesus, by the light of the star, we today find Jesus by the light of His word, and then it ends with a very traditional blessing of Paul’s words in Corinthians 13, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with us all, amen.” That is a very traditional way of ending a service. So what I wanted to do here is help bring structure to parents’ prayer lives if they wanted it with their children. I find often people are looking for help, and some of the thing that is scary to begin devotional life is you’re not sure where to start. Sometimes we’re beginning our own prayer life with our children. And so here you have some guardrails. You can take pieces of it, you could take all of it, you could add to it, or you could change it, and that was the big hope there, is that these books aren’t just books we read with our kids, but they’re books that lead parents and their families and children into the Bible.

Terrie:

Yeah. I love it. And I love how it’s written to be a responsive reading. So the children are involved from the get go of the whole time together in prayer, everyone’s participating in, I didn’t grow up in that kind of a tradition, but I’ve learned to appreciate it in my old age as I’ve gotten older. And what I love about the more liturgical or the more traditional forms of worship is that it does require participation, you’re not just sitting and listening, you’re participating. And so that I think is one of the strongest things I appreciate about the repeating prayers or reading prayers is that everyone’s participating. Okay so, the series is called Fat Cat, so go ahead and explain that and then we’ll go on.

Todd:

Well, and I wanted to go back just briefly to verse 2. One of the things I love about it is that it puts the words in children’s little hearts. So they don’t necessarily know what they’re saying at the time, but this is like all language acquisition. They learn the words and the sounds, and then later the meaning comes. And so we’re teaching them the language of faith. The other Fat Cat books, the prayer begins with repeat at verse five from Psalm 100, “The Lord is good. His love endures forever.” And I thought those would be really nice words for little children to be able to know and to go on their way with, and there are lovely things to learn from other traditions as well, of course. But on to the name Fat Cat. Yeah, it’s a silly name, it’s partially anecdotal. And my wife and I, we had this very fat cat named Earl, he was just an enormous cat, and we had been talking, my wife and I, with the artist and her husband about how do we help people with the catechism and the story of the Bible? How do we help them disciple their own children and disciple themselves? There’s catechism, but that sounds scary, sounds intimidating. It’s a word not everybody knows, and the last three generations of Americans in general have not been exposed to this idea. And so at about this time our very fat cat, he had died. The artist, she drew a silly cartoon of him and that was sort of the origin of this fat cat. We’re like, “Here’s this fat cat.” And the artist’s husband, Lindsey, he had said, “Well actually, even though it’s silly, it helps introduce this idea to parents. It’s not a scary word, but it can stand in for these very rich words, cat for catechism fat, because the catechism isn’t something that’s plumbable.” We always come back to it, we always keep learning. And so my own specialty as a scholar is Martin Luther’s preaching. And you’ll often see in his sermons, he’ll say something like, “Every morning I sit down and kneel in prayer with my children, and I repeat and pray with them the 10 Commandments, the Apostles Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer.” Even though I’m an old fat doctor, I need these children’s words too.

Terrie:

That’s good. I love that. And I love to, just from a picture book perspective, and I get to interview the artist soon too, so I can’t wait for that. But she has the cat on almost every page. I believe in every spread you’ll see the cat, and then she has other little things to look for in each of the pictures, which just makes it fun as you go through the book to look at all the fun things she has in every picture. And the book is just very engaging and I really like it. I’m looking forward to seeing the Easter one, that’s going to be fantastic.

Todd:

Oh, I was just going to say, when you said the other things hidden, it made me think that was part of the story that I had buried is that the Magi’s, they’re looking for The King of Christmas, they’re asking people to join them. And so each spread, somebody joins from the previous. So you have a firefly, There’s even a fish that joins a little bowl and a camel and a shepherd boy, and that’s part of the fun. That was something that, Natasha will expand on this, but this book took a long time to illustrate because there were so many people in each spread, and the Easter story is even more so that way. She took a huge amount of time, something like 12 hours a spread.

Terrie:

Wow, that’s a lot. Wow. But it is, it’s so fun. It’s done really well. So, coming from a non whatever traditional background, I was raised Baptist and I’m a pastor’s wife and we’ve been non-denominational now for quite a while too, but catechism was new to me and I first was really introduced to it through the Baby Believer books. I don’t know if you’ve seen that series, but I introduced Danielle on my podcast and I think it’s just wonderful. And her whole publishing company is Catechis-… I never can say it right, but it uses the word catechism in the name of it. Um, and so for someone who doesn’t really know what the catechism is, I know you’ve mentioned 10 Commandments, the Apostles Creed and the Lord’s Prayer is there more to it than that? I know you’re focusing on families discipling their children, and that’s my platform as well, is how do we disciple our kids? I guess my question is, what would you say to parents who are not familiar with catechism or how to teach their children? Where should we begin? Like Martin Luther at the dinner table? You know, what would you suggest?

Todd:

So the catechism, there is the content of it, which is the 10 Commandments, the Apostles Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and also often what the tradition calls the Sacraments, and some folks would call ordinances or commands that Jesus gave us, they’ll often be added too. So in the small catechism, for example, of Luther, which is a commentary on these words, he has baptism, confession, and forgiveness, and the Lord’s Supper. Those things are all implied in the second part of the Apostles Creed in Jesus Christ, our Lord, as well as the third article, I believe in the Holy Spirit in which he goes on what his gifts are, what are the gifts that Jesus sends to us by His spirit and Word? So that’s the very content, those six things, and then there’s the method of teaching a child. And so often in the history of the church, catechism has been questions and answers. Luther did that in a very spectacular and simple way. His small catechism is like 4,000 words, which is sort of like a long article that you could read over the weekend, it’s not very long at all. It’s easy to memorize and repeat back. There are other catechisms as well that follow the same structure, but that are much bigger. So the Heidelberg Catechism, much larger, but it’s starting from that same platform of the 10 Commandments, the Apostles Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. Westminster Catechism is doing this as well. I’ll stop there. So some ways for parents to go at this, I think it’s important. If you have trouble saying the word, just don’t worry about it. Because the very words of the catechism are simple to say. You know, we know where the 10 Commandments are, we know the Lord’s Prayer. The Apostles Creed is new to many as well, but the words are not terribly difficult. And so each of these books give parents four different ways to implement a life of discipleship with their family. You can pray for your children. So if you look at the beginning of The Apostles Creed or The Lord’s Prayer Fat Cat book, there’s a long prayer. So it has some words of Jesus Almighty and everlasting God, you sent your only son to seek and save the lost saying, let the little children come to me and it goes on. Protect our children, send your holy angels to give charge over them. that’s actually Psalm 90, so you can pray for your children. That’s one piece, the other piece you can read with your children. So you can read these books, for example, or another catechism, and just say the very words, “Our Father who art in Heaven Hallowed Be thy name.” Just say these with your children. Turn the pages so that they can see the pictures and associate some of these stories of the Bible with the Lord’s Prayer. There are other ways to read the book to where you can read some of the commentary that ties up. So our Father Who art in Heaven, then there’s the commentary, Lord teach us to pray. Who is our Father in Heaven? And so you could just spend five minutes doing that with your child. Just going through what do these words mean here? You could also go through and read just the pictures in the books. What story is this that we’re seeing? So like “hallowed be thy name” is the Nativity, here’s Jesus being born. You could ask children what they notice in the pictures, how that ties with Jesus’ name, with God’s name. The other thing that you can do is you can recite this with your children, just have them say the words with you. You could say, “Our Father who art in heaven,” they can repeat, “Hallowed be thy name.” Like as a response. One thing that I’ve been doing with my own children lately, they’re four and a half and six, I leave out certain words and then they supply them. They think that’s very cool. I’ve found that that’s pretty fun, and I’ve been saying these things with my children for years. They rarely will say them with me, but when I start leaving these words out or phrases I see, they actually know this by heart, they know this very well. So that’s another thing to do, recite. And then lastly, to pray with your children. So that’s why that the Family Prayer is in back of these books, just do simple prayers with your child. So that’s saying these very words, praying the Apostle’s Creed, praying the “Our Father.” You could also take pieces of them and turn them into a prayer. So, make them a confession, thanksgiving, and a request. So you could say, for example, give us this day our daily bread. Heavenly Father, you give us our daily bread, we give you thanks for all the things included in daily bread, a house and home, and work, dear family, dear children, and we pray that you would give us eyes to see these gifts, and to love and cherish. Amen. So just inviting sort of a directed prayer from the heart. And so for a while, our family at dinner, we would just go through the catechism, take one petition from the Lord’s Prayer, pray at each night, and then go on to the Apostle’s Creed, go onto the 10 Commandments. And none of these, they don’t take very long. Even if you read the entirety of one of the longer fat cat books like The Lord’s Prayer with all the text, you’d be like 10 minutes. If you do just the prayer itself, that’s a minute. Maybe if you’re going really fast. So it’s finding those times in your life, some of those are transition times. So for example, every morning with our kids, when they get up before they’re getting dressed, or as they’re getting dressed, before we go downstairs to have breakfast, we say God’s name together, we sing Psalm 51, verse 15, “Oh Lord, open my lips, my mouth will declare your praise.” And then the children pick a psalm, usually sort of one that’s fitting for the morning, particularly Psalm 100. “Be joyful in the Lord.” And then we say, part of the catechism, I ask if there are things that they’re thankful for, that they’d ask for. And then we close with Paul’s words, The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Terrie:

Oh, that’s wonderful. I love that.

Todd:

It doesn’t take very long at all, and it’s really just that pattern, finding what works. You can pray for your children, read with your children, recite with your children, pray with your children, they’re all pretty simple. You know, this is something we don’t need a degree in, you don’t have to know what the answers are, even to some of these questions. I think that’s an anxiety of parents too. It’s a good thing to model to children when they ask questions, if I don’t know the answer, it’s important that I say, “That’s a great question. I don’t know the answer, and maybe we’ll go find out together.” Sometimes it’s a thing that we could say, “Let’s pray that, Let’s ask God about this question.”

Terrie:

Yeah. I think that is so, so important. Because then they grow up thinking they have to have all the answers before they can share or teach. And so we’re modeling for them that we don’t have all the answers. And we can find that answer with God’s help, I love that. And I’ve tried to encourage parents as well, like you said, that we are pouring God’s word into our children’s minds and hearts. They may not understand it yet, but as they grow up, they can grasp what they’ve memorized and what they’ve learned, what they’ve been exposed to. And so from day one, we start when they’re infants, reciting God’s words, reading God’s words to them so that they are put into their hearts and minds. And one of the things too with, uh, talking about discipleship is I believe discipleship starts with evangelism. It starts with sharing the gospel. It’s not once they become a Christian, oh, then we can put them in a Bible study and they can be discipled. No, we’re missing the whole point, you know? Discipleship is following Christ, it’s commitment to Christ and His word and obedience to Him, and it’s a growing into understanding, and all of that is part of discipleship. And as parents, every time we share the Gospel with our kids, we’re discipling. We’re showing that we value that, that that’s most important to us, and we just can do this. In my whole ministry, I focus on Deuteronomy six, because that’s where we start when we’re walking along the road, when we’re driving in the minivan, you know, I remember when my kids were little, one day, they were bargaining with each other over candy. I’ll give you some of mine if you’ll give me some of yours. And I don’t know how God got through my brain, but he just spoke to my heart to just really intervene in that situation. They weren’t fighting, but there was just such a bargaining there. And I said, “You know, if you want to give and share, do it because you want to share. Don’t do it with an expectation of receiving, and change the attitude of their intentions instead of bargaining and getting ready to argue with each other, to just be generous and to give.” And I was so thankful that God just kind of put that in my mind and heart as I was seeing this happen with my kids. And it changed the entire spirit of their negotiation, and things like that. You know, if we’re just in tune to the Holy Spirit, He can help us as we disciple our kids in the every day in the everything we’re doing. So I just love that.

Todd:

If it’s okay, there was, you said so many wonderful things that I just wanted to kind of, “and one,” if that’s okay. Yeah, what you’re saying, it’s not up to us in a very specific sense, parents need to be in tune, like you’re saying. And we’re responsible for teaching these things and for praying these things. We don’t know how our children will respond, and we don’t know where their story ends. So there are stories of great disappointment and frustration and certain times of a child’s life, but in 10 years they might see things very differently, we just don’t know. And we can’t hold the anxiety of, I can control how my child will respond to God’s Word, we have to keep giving it. And what you were saying, it’s a good reminder that this isn’t just knowledge. God’s word does stuff to us. I often in public when praying, if I prayed the Bible, I will find myself crying. And it’s something about God’s words unlocking something that I didn’t see in myself, some emotions. And when you were talking about children not understanding, I think of this story when my oldest son, he was very sick and it was nighttime, and I asked him, What psalm would you like to pray tonight? And he cut me off and croaked “Out of the depths, I cry.” Which is Psalm 130, which is a funeral psalm, but also one we say at night. And I thought it was so interesting to see this Psalm that’s kind of abstract. It’s not a story, but he understood what it meant and when to use it. It was so exciting to me, but thanks for letting me add those things.

Terrie:

Yeah. No, that’s wonderful. Thank you so much for coming on and sharing today. I really appreciate it.

Todd:

Thanks for talking with me, Terrie. It was really fun hearing your stories too.

Terrie:

Thank you. Thank you for joining us for “Books That Spark,” a podcast, celebrating books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions as we disciple our children and help them follow Christ with their whole hearts. If you would like to connect with Todd, you can connect with him on LinkedIn under his profile, Todd R. Hains, and there you will find out more about him. You can also find him on the author page on Amazon to learn more about his books and what he has written. If you would like to connect with me, you can reach me at terriehellardbrown.com. I’d love for you to sign up for my mailing list. When you do, you receive several free items as well as getting notifications when I post a blog post or an episode of this podcast. You also get the monthly newsletter, which now includes a book club. Remember in the book club, I cover books for all ages from toddler up to young adult and include some questions for discussion on some of the books. Plus, when you sign up for my mailing list, you get the legacy email, which is about two months of emails. You get one a week that is written just for you as the parent and as a disciple of Christ to encourage you in your walk with God. I hope you enjoyed this episode, and if you did, please like or share, let your friends know we’re here. We appreciate that. It helps us to grow, and we just want you to know we appreciate you, and thank you for being here today.

Some other Episodes and Blog Posts You Might Enjoy Revisiting:

Episode 129: Interview with Natasha Kennedy and the Beauty of the Gospel

Episode 130: Interview with Harold Senkbeil and Discipling the Next Generation

Episode 131: Teaching Our Children to Pray

Episode 54-Helping Our Children Embrace Discipleship

Discipleship Through Biblical Poetry: here and here

What Did Jesus Do in Discipling Others Series

Nooks and Crannies Discipleship

Your Host: Terrie Hellard-Brown

Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.

Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.

Her blog posts discuss living as a disciple of Christ while parenting our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ and to use the nooks and crannies of our lives to disciple our children.

Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.

Her motto is “Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be WONDERFUL” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.

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