On the day each of my children was born, I opened my Bible to Psalm 139 to read David's powerful words about how intimately God knew him while he was yet in his mother's womb.

Next to the passage, I wrote the names of each of my children, their birthdates, weights and lengths. I wrote the information there not only because I wanted to remember the day they were born, but also because I wanted them to know that I regarded them then, as I do now, to be marvelous creations of God.

I know, as does any parent, that children make the best case for original sin. They are sinful just as I, and they do not have to be taught to say "no" to instructions from a father or mother, especially when cookies or crayons are involved.

My wife and I have stressed with our children two life options that are necessarily followed by praise or punishment. Making "good choices" yields rewards. Some form of discipline follows "bad choices."

Should some punishment take place, however, the same child that may have spurned simple instruction is in our laps within minutes, asking for her favorite story to be read. A child's desire for immediate reconciliation with those against whom they have transgressed is a testimony to their innocence by worldly standards. It is also a testimony to their dependence on those who provide for them.

When I became a father five years ago, God began to teach me again about what it means to have the faith of a child. My children trust so simply that what we have taught them about God is true. There are never questions as to whether or not God exists.

There are, however, questions nonetheless, and many of them are astounding and would give pause to the grandest theologians.

Others are amusing. For example, I've never thought of asking about the color of the carpet in heaven. I've never asked if heaven has a roof. And there may have been a chuckle across the vast expanse of heaven when one of my daughters showed me a tattered shoe and said that I should take it to God for Him to fix it.

Throughout the past year I have watched as my oldest daughters have grown in the knowledge of God. My oldest is aware of the facts of the Gospel -- that Jesus is God's Son, that He died on a cross because of humanity's sin, and that He did so in order that we might have forgiveness.

It is often at times when I think she is ready to make a faith response to the Gospel that I am reminded what she hasn't yet fully grasped. Still, as we walk through the neighborhood or play in the backyard, we talk about God and the heart of the Christian faith.

It is in those times that I often recognize how easy it is for parents to fail. Just as parents depend on public school systems to teach their children about moral values and sex education, many parents leave religious instruction to the Sunday School teachers their children see once a week.

That should not be so. What happens within the four walls of the church merely should be complementary to what happens in the home. No Sunday School curriculum and no Bible story told will be received as well as instruction in the faith from a parent. In this way, parents are ministers to their children.

My role as a minister to my children is not that of a mediator. I can do nothing for them that will ultimately justify them in the eyes of God. I realize, however, that whatever my children become in life will be the result of the teaching about Christ, or lack thereof, in our home. Ultimately, we pray, our teaching will take root and grow into the faith delivered once and for all to the saints.

Until then, we will read colorful Bible stories, pray and exercise the prophetic responsibility God has given to us as parents, to "train up a child" in the way she or he should go so they will not depart from it. We will watch as they discover more about God, cry with them when they hurt and laugh with them when they play. I will do my best not to miss teaching moments and to capitalize on what they know about God already.

They know now that God is fun, that He is caring, that He can do anything, and that He's taking care of those we love who've gone on before us. They even know that God's Son, Jesus, born in a shepherd's cave in Bethlehem, is coming back to take all who believe in Him to heaven.

Sure, they may still believe that heaven is a place to which you can drive, but that's okay. I wish most adults believed heaven was that real and that close to us.

My prayer is that all Christian parents will re-examine themselves and ask some tough, introspective questions. For example, am I working hard at making a living yet failing to teach my children how to live? Do I pass along godly instruction on a daily basis? Do I realize that this ministry of parenthood is a gift from God?

Questions like these are ones we all should be ready to answer. Being able to answer such hard questions makes it easier to answer the fun ones.

"Daddy?"

"Yes, Libby." Pause while Libby thinks.

"What is it sweetheart?"

"Does Jesus have a wagon?" Libby asks with bright eyes and a smile.

Laughs from Dad, then Libby.

"He just might, Libby. He just might."


Gregory Tomlin is director of communications at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

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