In this episode we discuss books to help us prepare for and celebrate Easter, understand Lent, and discuss tips for sharing the Gospel with young children.
Books Discussed in this Episode:
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. This week is Ash Wednesday. And so I wanted to spend a little bit of time talking about Ash Wednesday. I didn’t grow up in a tradition that observed Ash Wednesday, but I’ve found as an adult that it has become meaningful to my family. And the reason for that, and it’s from a book I’ve mentioned before by Carol Brazo, No Ordinary Home. And in that book, she has a list of what she used to do with her kids from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. And I did that with my children as well. And I will also put a list in the show notes for doing this as well for your family, if you so choose, but we would get an Easter tree. And our Easter tree was a little white bare-branched tree, and we would put an ornament for each Bible story we told, and we would go from Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday through the whole Bible, basically–from creation through Abraham, and then we come into the new Testament and the story of Jesus. And we end on Easter Sunday with the resurrection. That was really special to know that we went through every story with our kids. And sometimes that was really hard to, every day, set aside some time to go through every story, but this is not meant to be a super-long worship service or anything like that. This is just a time of devotion with your family, where you go over a Bible story and talk about the importance of that story in the whole scheme of God’s plan and put an ornament on the tree to prepare our hearts for Easter. And it is so amazing to come up to Easter Sunday with having prepared for these 47 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, and prepared our hearts for that celebration; it becomes very meaningful. The last week, of course, leading into Easter, we do a lot of celebrating and observing different activities, the stations of the cross, Passover, and those have become very meaningful for our family too. So if you haven’t gotten a copy of No Ordinary Home, I know it is out of print, but if you look, I’ve said many times, if you can find a copy of it, it is such an amazing book. So coming up on Ash Wednesday, and I know it’s coming up quickly, like tomorrow, don’t panic. If you haven’t gotten your Easter tree together, and you haven’t gotten your ornaments together to do this whole activity, you can certainly start with one ornament for today and work on getting the tree put together by this weekend. Maybe make that part of the project with celebrating and observing Ash Wednesday and Lent leading up to Easter, making that a family project together this weekend, maybe, or once you get the tree, then reviewing the stories you’ve covered already, hanging the ornaments on the tree. And until then having them sit in a basket on your table or something like that. So don’t panic that you haven’t prepared ahead of time. I always am that kind of a person. I like to plan way ahead. And if I can’t plan way ahead, I feel like I’ve failed, but we’re going to go with the flow. We’re going to make it special because the focus is on Christ and how he came to bring salvation to all of mankind.
I wanted to share a few books with you today that are really good for talking to children about Easter and about the Bible story. And of course, if you have a Bible storybook that covers all the different stories, you can use that or use one of the Bible translations that we’ve recommended. We recommend the Easy to Read Version (ERV). We believe it is one of the best translations for reading to children. You can use, you know, Love Letters from God by Glenys Nellist or some of the other books that we’ve mentioned before, but whatever your family enjoys reading together as a devotional time that carries you through the stories of the Bible would be appropriate for this. I mentioned Glenys Nellist. She just had a new book come out Twas the Morning of Easter. And if you’ve read her Twas the Evening of Christmas, you know, the kind of style and the same illustrator illustrated this one. Her name is Elena Selivanova. The drawings are beautiful, and it does follow the story of kind of along the lines of Clement Moore’s Twas the Night before Christmas. This is Mary Magdalena’s story as she comes to the tomb and finds the tomb empty. And it talks about the soldiers who are standing watch, and then there’s the earthquake. And then she goes into the empty tomb, Jesus speaks to her, and she goes to tell the disciples.
Another great book that tells the whole story from creation through the resurrection is called The Garden, the Curtain, and the Cross: The True Story of Why Jesus Died and Rose Again, written by Carl Laferton illustrated by Catalina Echeverri So I’m going to read just a little bit of both of these books, just so you can kind of get a feel for what they’re like. So let me start with Twas the Morning of Easter.
“It was the morning of Easter before the sun Rose two guards on a hillside were just trying to doze. You see Jesus had died only three days before a huge stone had been placed to seal the cave door. The disciples were sleeping, but tossed in their beds as visions of dangers swirled round in their heads, would they be arrested and led away to, without Jesus, their leader? What would they do in her small, quiet home, not too far away. Jesus’ friend Mary was planning the day. She would go to the cave with perfume and spice in hopes that her gifts would make Jesus smell nice. The sun through the trees was just starting to peep at the guards on the Hill who were now fast asleep. When all of a sudden there came an earthquake and the rocks and the trees all started to shake.” So you can see how the, the rhythm, the poetry, and even some of the choices of the story reflect the Clement Moore’s story Twas the Night before Christmas, as it tells the Easter story. So that’s how that story sounds and what it’s like.
And then The Garden, the Curtain, and the Cross starts out, “A very long time ago, right here in this world, there was a garden in the garden. Everything was wonderful. The world was full of laughing and playing and smiling and fun. There was nothing bad ever. There was no one sad ever. And best of all, God was there. Hello Adam, hello Eve. He had made it all. He was in charge of it all. He loved it. All people could see God and speak to God and just enjoy being with God Eve God’s here. He wants to walk with us again. How cool is that? Yay. I bet it’s going to be even more amazing than yesterday. It was wonderful to live with God, but then one day the people did a terrible thing. They decided they didn’t want to do what God said. They decided they wanted a world without God in charge. God calls this sin. Sin spoils things. So sin has no place in God’s wonderful garden. God said to the people, ‘You can’t live with me in my garden anymore.’ And he sent them outside to show the people they had to stay outside. He put some warrior angels in front of the garden. The angels were like a big keep out sign. Now things were sometimes bad, and people were sometimes sad, but people still kept sinning because they didn’t want God to be in charge. So no one could come into God’s wonderful place. God said because of your sin, you can’t come in. God wanted people to remember it is wonderful to live with him, but because of your sin, you can’t come in. So he told the people to build a special building, called his temple where he would live.” And it goes through the temple, the tabernacle, and the Holy of Holies. Then it talks about the crucifixion and that Jesus had a plan. “He had always planned to die on the cross. What a strange plan, why would God’s son plan to die on the cross? Jesus took our sins, all the bad things we do and all the sad things they because Jesus took them all from us. And when he did something amazing, astonishing, astounding happened. The curtain tour, God had ripped up the keep out sign. God’s wonderful place is open again because Jesus died. We can go in and then it goes on from there to talk about salvation in what it means to follow God and pray, and to be able to talk to him.
Now, there are a few books that deal with Lent and help a child to go through Lent. So if your church has that tradition, or you would like to introduce that tradition, there’s a book called Make Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter by Laura Alary and illustrated by Ann Boyajian. In this book, it starts out talking about seasons and how the world has seasons and then how the church has seasons. It is definitely written from more of a liturgical viewpoint. It explains pretty well what is going on in how we view Lent and that whole season of preparing for Easter. It says on the back of the book, “This is an invitation for children to wonder about the Lenten story. This unique book teaches children to experience Lent with all their senses and to see it as a special time for creating a welcoming space for God, simple activities like cleaning a room, making bread and soup and inviting a neighbor for supper, become acts of justice and kindness. Part of a life of following Christ. I haven’t read this whole book, but what I have read of it and what I’ve seen of it, I really like, and I think it explains clearly what acting out our faith can mean and preparing our hearts for Easter through the Lenten season and making that a special time when we purposefully try to minister to others and bless others and remember Christ.
And then another one is called Take Up Your Cross: Lenten Bible Stories for Kids by Jared Dees. This one goes through scripture for the Lenten season and it starts out (And this is why I like it) if you’re not used to Lent, it helps to have the explanation. So the very first part of it uses the scripture Genesis 2-3, and it says, “We begin each season of Lent with a day called Ash Wednesday. It is common to have our foreheads marked with ashes as a sign of our desire for mercy. This is the story of God’s punishment for Adam and Eve after they ate the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, as you read this story, pay attention to the way God describes death to Adam.” And so then it goes through that story and the rest of the book goes through the different stories. So this would be a book you could use with the Easter tree and going through all the stories in the Bible, in preparation for Easter, at the end of each story, they have reflection questions. For this first story: “What punishment did God give to Adam for his sin? Why did God tell Adam he is dust and to dust, he shall return. What does it feel like to do something wrong? How can you feel better after hurting or disobeying someone? And why do you think we look to Jesus cross today as our new tree of life?” I like what I have read from this book. It seems to be very well done and carrying us through the 40 days, leading up to the resurrection.
One of the questions that sometimes comes up when, especially when we’re talking about discipling, our kids is how do we talk to them about the crucifixion? How do we talk to them about some of the stories in the old Testament? And I always, first of all, say, we need to just share what is age appropriate for our children. There are certain stories they don’t need to hear until they’re older. They don’t need to read the whole Bible through from end to end as children. I just think that is something they’re not ready for. It. It’s not meant for children of that age, but on the other hand, I do believe we can share the gospel. We can share the story of Jesus and his crucifixion with children’s starting about age four and on, I don’t usually share the crucifixion very much with children younger than four. They don’t really grasp it, but I have found some children at three, but definitely by four, some are ready to hear the story. And so here’s some pointers that hopefully will help you as you approach this Easter season and sharing the gospel with your children.
- With anything that we do as believers, we need to pray and rely on the Holy spirit. That’s just number one in all of it. We need to pray and we need to rely on the Holy spirit. And, you know, he promises in his scripture to give us the words, to say to other people in certain situations, if we come before, you know, Kings or officials and are arrested for our faith, he’ll give us the words to say, we should always be ready to give an answer for the faith we have will. I believe whole heartedly that when we are talking to our children or teaching children or ministering to someone, God gives us the words we need to say. And so if we start with prayer and we’re relying on the Holy spirit, he will give us the words we need to say in a way that they can understand he meets them where they are. He knows where they are spiritually and what they need to hear. So he will do that for us as we teach our kids,
- Know your kids and where they are spiritually, you know what they’re ready for, where they are, how they’re growing. If they’re asking questions and I find this to be true of any subject, if your children are asking direct questions about anything, it’s time to talk about it. And so if your child comes up and starts talking about salvation, God is working in their lives. So don’t be afraid to answer any questions. They might have.
- Share simple facts. You don’t need to share gruesome details more than they need to know. I mean, I’ve heard some ministers go into just all the gory details of the crucifixion and how awful it was. And just like, if you were to watch the passion of Christ, you wouldn’t show that movie to a three-year-old or a four-year-old or even a ten-year-old necessarily it’s too gruesome. And we don’t need to see that to understand Christ’s sacrifice. And so just share the simple facts of the story. Truthfully tell them that Jesus died for our sin and that it was painful. And it was hard for him to die on the cross for us, but he did it because he loved us and his death paid the penalty for what we have done wrong. And it allows us then to be forgiven and to have Christ as our Lord and savior. If we share too many gruesome details, we can, whether we’re talking about hell or whether we’re talking about the cross, we can scare a child into making a commitment that it isn’t really heartfelt, or we can push them away from the God who loves them because they misunderstand him. And so we want to be careful and share just simple facts, age appropriate for our children, where they are.
- As you’re sharing, be aware of how your child is responding emotionally, I find that most children just accept the story and roll with it. You know, they don’t get super emotional, but a very sensitive child could become emotional. And we don’t want to stop them from feeling that emotion life is, all those things rolled up together. We feel good. We feel bad, we feel sad. And so feeling those feelings is really an honest response to the gospel message. And so if your child responds in any emotional way, then just be there and hug them and comfort them and let them feel what they’re feeling and let it be their heartfelt response to the message they’ve just heard.
- Share the full gospel message. Don’t stop at the crucifixion. Some people are, well all of us, I guess, at one time or another, have stopped there with the crucifixion and the burial and not gone on to the resurrection. And the full gospel is that Christ was victorious over death. He paid the penalty and he rose again; the price was paid. It is finished. And he had victory over death and sin. So end with the joy of the resurrection and Jesus giving the Holy spirit to those of us who follow him. That’s how we should end the Easter story. That’s how we should end the gospel message–knowing that Jesus rose again, and we can choose to follow him and accept his forgiveness and let him be the Lord and savior of our lives.
- Let them ask questions. No question is off limits. Admit if you don’t know the answer, but answer them. Honestly, if you do know the answer and be matter of fact about it. And then if the Holy spirit leads, ask them if they are ready to follow Christ, you’ll know if you’re supposed to ask that or not. The Holy spirit will make it very clear, but if you do need to ask it, ask it don’t hesitate. That’s because the Holy spirit is preparing them. And the time is right for you to ask, even if they don’t accept Christ and follow him that day, it plants the seed that they need to make a decision to be a Christ follower, and then end by praying together no matter what their response is, pray together and thank God for what he has done. So when we talk to children, this is the way I think it is most important in sharing the gospel to really get in there. Just be honest and share the real story without giving the gruesome details.
I want to end with two devotionals from Hope for Each Day by Billy Graham. And this is a children’s devotional. And so March 30th is “Jesus Suffered for You.” Isaiah 53:5 from the ICB says, “The punishment, which made us well was given to him.” “Firefighters, police officers, and military men and women all have one thing in common. They are willing to do hard and dangerous things for the benefit of other people. When Jesus was on the cross, he was in great pain, but Jesus pain was more than just the physical pain in his body. He also felt the spiritual pain of God’s judgment, even though he was the son of God. Perfect. And without sin, all our sins were placed on him and he suffered and died in our place. Why did Jesus suffer? Because God loves us. Jesus willingly went to the cross because that was the way he could pay for our sins. The cross is the measure of God’s love. How will you respond to his love poured out on the cross for you?
And then from April 1st, it says, “Jesus is alive.” Galatians 2:20, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” “At the end of a book or movie, have you ever been surprised by how things turned out? Whatever you thought the ending would be? Wasn’t what happened at all. Jesus’ disciples thought his death was the end of his story, but they were wrong. The very son of God had come down from heaven, humbled himself, and become obedient to the point of death. Even the death of the cross, Philippians 2:8, as they saw him die on the cross, the disciples didn’t understand that he was dying in the place of sinners. When Jesus had told them that they would see him again, after he died, it didn’t make sense to them. They thought everything was over, but it wasn’t. The disciples were so surprised when Jesus rose again, conquering death. If Christ is not alive, there is no hope for any of us, but he is alive. And because he is, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him because he always lives to intercede for them. Hebrews 7:25 in the NIV. That means that when we ask Jesus is ready to help you and me, he saves us from our sins and his power lives within us. That is good news.”
Thank you for joining us for “Books that Spark,” a podcast, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions. I hope these books will spark meaningful conversations with the children in your life. I hope this Lenten season and leading up to Easter is a wonderful time of preparing your family, preparing your own heart to celebrate the resurrection this Easter.
Lent Stories/Easter Tree and Ornaments
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 are published each Thursday and discuss living as a disciple of Christ while discipling our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ.
For more information, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com
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 “Growing older is inevitable; growing up is optional” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.
Disclaimer: Although Terrie majored in psychology and sociology for her bachelor’s degree and has taught AP Psychology, she is NOT a licensed therapist. She sometimes mentions items in her blog and podcast that could be considered comments on psychology, but these comments are based on ministry experience and ministering to people through the missions and church work she’s done for the past 36 years. If you have questions about psychological disorders or counseling needs, please consider finding a reputable, licensed counselor in your area. Terrie’s comments should be seen as anecdotal and ministry-experience-related or scripture-based. Thank you!