Thursday, December 30, 2010

Time for Reflection

It's the end of another year. I don't know about you, but it seems the older I get, the faster the years seem to go by. With only two days left in 2010, I want to urge you with this last blog post of the year to take a few minutes to reflect on how God has worked in your life and the lives of your children this year.

As I look back over 2010, I see how God has changed me to be able to share my passion for training our children with you. Even just two years ago I would have told you that you were crazy if you suggested that I would write a daily blog encouraging other moms to teach their children about God. Yet, here I am at the end of 2010 with a passion to share, a blog that reaches people all over the world and an excitement about what God has in store for all of us in 2011.

Reflection is an important part of making a difference for God -- in our children's lives and in the lives of those around us. In the Old Testament, God admonishes the Israelites over and over to not forget what He has done for them. Deuteronomy 15:15 says "Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you." In the same way, we need to take a moment and look back at our year to remember the things that God has done for us. Ask yourself these questions:
  • How did God work in my life this year?
  • How did I see God work in my children's lives this year?
  • In what direction is God moving me in my work, my parenting and my ministry?
As you're remembering what God has done for you and your family this year, take a moment, as well, to evaluate the things you have done with your children this year. Examine how you have been teaching, encouraging and loving your kids this year. Ask yourself these questions:
  • What did my children learn about God this year?
  • What worked with my kids this year? What didn't work?
  • In what direction do I see God leading my kids?
Finally, take a few minutes to think about where you think God is leading you in 2011. The entire purpose of this blog is to help you be intentional about teaching your children about God. We can only be intentional if we start with a plan. Start 2011 with an outline in mind of the general direction that you want to go in your own life and in teaching your children. Ask yourself these questions:
  • Where do I think God is leading me in the next year? Are there any steps that He is asking me to take to get there?
  • What do I want to focus on teaching my children in 2011? Do I need to focus on different things with each of my children?
  • What do I need to do be deliberate in teaching my kids in 2011?
An end-of-the-year time of refelction allows us to evaluate where we've been and set a direction for where we'd like to go. Pray over these questions and spend some time thinking them through. Then take the steps God is leading you to take in the direction He wants you to go in 2011. I can't wait to see where He takes you.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Growing Up

I took my 9-year-old daughter out to lunch the other day. As I sat across the table from her, it struck me yet again just how quickly she's growing up. It seems like just yesterday she was a chubby, little toddler, and now she's this beautiful, athletic, witty young lady who is just beginning to show glimpses of the amazing woman God has planned for her to be.

She has always been my deep thinker. Even when she was a preschooler, she would ask us some tough questions about God. As she has gotten older, I've been privileged to watch her faith become an important part of her life. She hasn't stopped asking the tough questions, either. As she grows physically, she also matures spiritually, which is exactly what God had in mind. We want our kids to follow in Jesus' footsteps by "growing in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man." (Luke 2:52)

Sometimes, though, it's easy for us to miss the opportunities to help our children grow spiritually. We would never let our children wander around in clothes that are two sizes too small, but we sometimes try to keep them in spiritual clothes that are two sizes too small. It's important that we understand what our kids are capable of learning at certain times in their lives. If we don't give them the spiritual meat that they need, then we are not fulfilling one of our most important roles in their lives.

We don't want our children to be like the Corinthians, to whom Paul said "I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready." (1 Corinthians 3:2) Despite being Christ-followers, the Corinthians had not matured spiritually. Paul could not teach them important things because they had not moved on from being "baby Christ-followers." Don't keep your children at the "baby" stage. Help them grow spiritually as they mature physically.

One of my favorite resources for knowing what a child of a certain age is capable of understanding is Focus on the Family's "Parents' Guide to the Spiritual Growth of Children." This is a great book that offers an overview of what kids need to know about God at different ages. I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of the book. For quick reference, here's a simplified overview from the book of ages and the things that they can understand. Remember that every child is different. This is just a guideline. Let your own child be your guide.

  • Ages 0-4: God exists, God loves you, Jesus loves you, God wants to take care of you
  • Ages 5-6: God is your loving Father, God tells us His story in the Bible, God sent His son Jesus to die for you, God has prepared a place in heaven for you
  • Ages 7-9: God is real, there is only one God, the Trinity, God is eternal, Jesus is both God and man, God's character, the Bible is true, God wants you to learn the Bible
  • Ages 10-12: Not everyone believes the truth about God but you can respond to their objections, God wants you to explore the Bible, God lets people serve and worship Him in different ways, you can pray on your own, you can learn to worship God on your own and in a group
This is just a snapshot of some of the things your child is capable of understanding at different ages. I've presented it to you mainly as a reminder that we need to change the way we present God to our kids as they grow. Each stage of childhood builds on the one before, but it's never too late to begin sharing God with your kids. Some kids will quickly grasp some truths and be ready to move on to the next while they may need to spend more time on other concepts. Most adults I know don't fully understand the concept of the Trinity, so don't expect your 9-year-old to figure it out right away.

Simply knowing how your child matures spiritually gives you the tools to be a better teacher and mentor for him. It lets you be intentional in how you teach and share with your child.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


We spent the last week building an ice rink in our backyard. Yep, you read that right, an ice rink. The big Christmas present for this year is a backyard ice rink. As most of you know, my youngest daughter plays ice hockey (wait, time for a mommy brag -- she scored her first ever goal last week). One of the little boys on her team has a backyard rink, and it sounded so simple when they told us about it.

Make a PVC pipe frame, attach a liner, add water and let it freeze. Boom, you've got an ice rink. Yeah, except it's not that easy. We started this project the Sunday before Christmas. We skated on it for the first time yesterday morning. In between last Sunday and yesterday, we ripped three liners, watered ours and the neighbors yards with hundreds of gallons of water at least four times, redesigned the frame three times and moved the entire rink once. Five straight nights (because the liner never failed during the daylight) we were out in the dark and the cold trying to get the rink to work.

After the first two tries, we were ready to throw in the towel. We said we'd give it one more try. Well, after the third try, we got on our stubborn hats and refused to let our unlevel yard beat us. Talk about detrmination. My husband was determined that this was going to work. Despite the frustration and agony of having the rink almost full of water, only to break and flood the yard, he kept working away. Our rink was prayed over every night at the dinner table -- the prayer usually went something like this, "Please, God, let our rink not rip, fall over or break in any other way."

I tell you this story not just to confirm the fact that we're crazy people but to make a point about determination. We were determined not to let this ice rink project beat us, but so often in our lives when we're faced with an obstacle, a temptation or a problem, we're not willing to stick it out. We look for the easy solution or we give up entirely. That's not an attitude that we want to have or that we want for our kids to have.

At some point in our lives, it's going to be tough to hang onto our faith. If we've never learned to be determined in our defense of our faith, then it's going to be easy to walk away from God. God is God in the good times and the bad, but we have to be determined to stick with Him through the tough stuff. Determination in our faith lets us hold onto God's promises even when we can't see them in our own lives. Psalm 145:13 says "The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does." Being determined in our faith, lets us believe that even when we feel abandoned.

Teach your kids to work through their problems. Teach them to stick with a problem even when it seems like there are no good answers. Model these actions for them.
  • The next time your child is faced with a tough situation or problem, work out possible solutions with them. Be determined to see the situation through. Talk about how determination helps us to know that God is with us in the tough stuff. If we are determined to believe in God's promises and rely on our faith in who He is, then no one can take that from us.
  • Give your kids a problem to solve -- a hidden object to find, a difficult puzzle to put together. Make it difficult. Let them work at it for a while. If they start to get discouraged, talk about the importance of determination. Talk about how important it us for us to be determined in our faith. If we're not, then people can lead us astray with very little effort.
Determination is an important quality for kids to understand and put into practice. So, even when the water is leaking out of the liner, teach your kids to be determined to hold onto God's promises.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Memory Monday: Psalm 51:2

As I sit here writing this, I'm looking at the leftovers of Christmas. My living room floor is covered with toys, clothes and the occasional piece of wrapping paper. My kitchen floor is a bit sticky, and my kitchen table has the fingerprints of the many who have eaten and played at it this weekend. Clearly, my home is in need of some post-Christmas clean-up. The next few days will be spent finding homes for new things and cleaning out some old ones.

Sometimes our lives need a little clean-up as well. We need to clean out the sin, so we can be left with a clean slate. We just spent weeks celebrating the birth of Christ -- the One who makes it possible for us to be clean. The Israelites of the Old Testament were very concerned with being "clean." God had given them a whole bunch of rules that would allow them to be ceremonially "clean." They could only eat certain foods and touch certain things if they wanted to remain "clean." If they committed certain sins, they had to offer certain sacrifices to God to atone for those sins.

Jesus' birth and death changed all that. He became the sacrifice for all of our sins. We no longer have to worry about what we eat or what we touch or what sacrifice to offer. Jesus became the sacrifice that atones for all of our sins. He made us "clean." All we have to do is ask for God's forgiveness and ask Jesus to be in charge of our lives.

David said it best in Psalm 51:2 when he wrote "Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin." That's what Jesus came to do -- to cleanse us. As you learn this verse this week and go about your post-Christmas cleaning, use it as an opportunity to share with your children how Jesus' sacrifice makes us clean.
  • If you're sorting toys to get rid of and make room for the new things your children got for Christmas, talk with your kids about how God sorts out our sin and removes it from our lives. Remind them that Jesus was the sacrifice that made that possible.
  • Have your kids help wash the dishes one night. Give them an exceptionally dirty plate and have them wash it. As the food is coming off, talk with your kids about how our sins are like the food on the plate. They stick to us, but because Jesus died on the cross, God can make us clean, just like the water and soap clean the plate.
  • Help your kids wash their hands after digging in the dirt. As the dirt comes off, talk with your kids about how God washes the "dirt" of sin off of us through Jesus' sacrifice, just like when we wash our hands. Jesus' sacrifice allows God to wash us clean, just like we wash our hands of dirt.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas!

It's only two days away. All the waiting and anticipation will soon be over. Gifts will be exchanged, hugs given, children will be delighted and adults will share in the joy. As you celebrate Christmas this year, I pray that you will find the peace, joy and salvation that God offers us through Jesus' birth, death and resurrection.

Don't let the little mishaps and big responsibilities rob you of the joy of the day. Remember that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus. No matter what happens on Christmas day -- whether dinner gets burnt, it snows two feet or you show up wearing the same Christmas sweatshirt as your mom -- focus on the true reason for the season.

Enjoy your children's delight and wonder in the season. Take a moment to sit beneath the glow of your Christmas tree and thank God for sending His son. Don't miss the moment in your hurry to get everything done. Savor the day, and experience the joy.

I want to leave you this week with the account of Jesus' birth found in Luke 2. Sometime on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve, be sure to read it with your family as part of your celebration. And, most of all, have a Merry Christmas!

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Mistletoe Hung Where You Can See

Nothing sums up the meaning of Christmas better than John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he sent his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life." It's easy to focus on the miraculous birth of Jesus, the wise men and the shepherds while never really focusing on the fact that Jesus' birth was a gift of love from God to us.

God loves us so much that he doesn't want us to spend eternity separated from him. His love is so great that he was willing to send his son to die as a sacrifice for our sins. God gives us a free gift borne out of His great love.

In the next few days before Christmas, don't forget to help your kids understand that the gift of Jesus comes from God's love for us. As a simple reminder of this, hang some mistletoe in your house. Mistletoe has traditionally been a symbol of love. You hang it in your house, and whoever is standing under it gets a kiss.

Hang some in your house and every time you kiss your child remind her that you love her and God does, too. Tell her that you're giving her a kiss to remind her that Jesus is God's gift of love.

In the busyness of the next few days, among all the baking, family events, church services, and gift-giving, give a kiss to remind everyone that Christmas is the season of love.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Lessons from the Carols

Yesterday was apparently National Go Caroling Day, according to my newspaper. We didn't get the opportunity to take part, but I got to thinking about how much music plays a role in our Christmas celebrations. What's a Christmas Eve service without some rendition of Silent Night? And does the Christmas season really get under way until you've sung "Joy to the World?"

We go to a very contemporary church, which doesn't include many traditional Christmas carols in its worship lineup. I find that I miss them and that my kids are growing up not knowing them. So, I make it a point every year to make sure my girls hear the beautiful carols of old.

Christmas carols are also a great springboard for conversation with your kids about the true meaning of the season. When you sing or listen to "Joy to the World," you can discuss the reasons we have to be joyful. You can talk about why Jesus coming to earth was a cause for Joy.

"Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" offers great opportunities to talk about the shepherds. Talk with your kids about why they think the angels appeared to the lowly shepherds instead of to the important people of the day. Talk about the shepherds' response to what the angels had to say.

For a more contemporary song, "Mary, Did You Know?" presents you with a great starting point for a conversation about Mary. You could talk about how you think she might have felt about all that had happened to her. Talk about her response to the shepherds and the wise men who came to worship her new baby boy.

Whatever the tune, don't pass up an opportunity to bring the nativity story into your conversation with your kids. And, next year, be on the lookout for National Go Caroling Day.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Memory Monday: Isaiah 9:6

The months before a child is born are a time of excitement for everyone involved. The parents-to-be anticipate the birth by getting a nursery ready, choosing names and wondering what the new member of their family will be like. Friends and family anxiously anticipate the new little person's birth. We give gifts and celebrate the impending arrival of a new person. For nine months, everyone involved waits for their special baby's birth.

Imagine how much the Jewish people were anticipating the birth of Jesus. Way back in the time of Isaiah, Jesus' birth was prophesied. Isaiah 9:6 says "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." For hundreds of years the Jewish people had been anticipating the arrival of Jesus. The birth of Jesus was the arrival of the hoped-for Messiah.

As you go through this last week before Christmas, take a moment to anticipate the celebration of Jesus' birth. As you memorize Isaiah 9:6, work to create a sense of excitement about celebrating Christmas. Channel your kids' excitement from the presents to the opportunity to celebrate Jesus' birth.
  • Plan a birthday party for Jesus. Hang streamers, bake a cake and invite some friends to celebrate. Make the story of Jesus' birth a central part of the celebration. Let your kids help plan the party so it will build anticipation.
  • Create a tradition of setting out a piece of your nativity set every day before Christmas. Build up to Chrismas Eve when you will place Jesus in the manger. This gives your kids the opportunity to anticipate Jesus' "arrival."
  • Talk with your kids about how excited they are about Christmas. Compare that excitement to how excited the Jewish people would have been to hear of the arrival of Jesus.
Don't get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of this last week before Christmas that you forget to anticipate celebrating Jesus' birth.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Read-Alouds

I love to read. If I can't find a good book, I'll read the back of a cereal box. I'll read just about anything that I can get my hands on. I also love children's books. I think there's nothing better than a well-illustrated, well-written children's book that makes a story come alive. Chapter books for elementary school kids are also some of my favorites. Do better books exist than Anne of Green Gables, Charlotte's Web and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe?

Christmas offers up some great read-alouds for your family. If you don't have some favorite Christmas stories that you read at Christmastime, start that tradition today. Our whole family looks forward each year to reading about how the Herdmans wreaked havoc on The Best Christmas Pageant Ever or about the donkey Mary rode to Jerusalem in The Small One.

Many of the books we read at Christmas offer opportunities to apply some Biblical principles. They allow us to follow the admonition of Philippians 4:8, which says "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." Spend some time sharing with a story and some discussion with your kids in this week before Christmas.

To help you get started, here are a few of our favorites along with some ideas for discussion.
  • The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson -- You haven't experienced Christmas unless you've spent it with the Herdmans (quite possibly the worst kids ever) and seen the impact they made on the church Christmas pageant.
    • Ask your kids why they think the Herdmans acted the way they did.
    • Ask your kids if they think that Jesus loves the Herdmans.
    • Talk about how Jesus came to earth to save everyone, even people we think are "bad."
    • Ask your kids who in the story understood the true meaning of Christmas.
  • The Small One by Alex Walsh and Jesse Clay -- A fictional account of the donkey who would take Mary to Bethlehem and the power of friendship and sacrifice.
    • Ask your kids how they think the little boy felt when he knew he would have to sell his donkey.
    • Ask your kids how hard they think it was for both the donkey and the boy when they knew the boy would have to sell the donkey to the tanner.
    • Ask your kids how they think the boy felt when Joseph stepped in and saved the donkey.
    • Compare how Joseph saved the donkey with how Jesus saved us.
  • Why Christmas Trees Aren't Perfect by Dick Schneider -- A story of how a tree gave of itself until its branches were bent and broken and it was no longer worthy of being the queen's Christmas tree.
    • Ask your kids why they think the tree gave so much.
    • Ask your kids if they think the tree's sacrifice was worth it.
    • Ask your kids why they think the queen eventually chose the imperfect tree over the perfect one.
    • Talk about why it's important to give of ourselves to others.
Whatever your favorite read-aloud is, look for ways to tie it back into the important principles of Christmas, and enjoy the time snuggled together with your kids on the couch.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gift-giving traditions

Christmas break is almost here for my kids, so today I'm finishing the Christmas shopping and wrapping the presents. I talk to a lot of people who are conflicted about how many gifts their kids get. I'll tell you that we spoil our kids for Christmas. If they need something and it's anywhere near Christmas, I wrap it up and put it under the tree. We also always try to replenish our game closet at Christmas along with some of the things that the girls ask for.

I love giving gifts, and every year I say that this year we're going to cut back and give the kids less. However, by the time Christmas rolls around, I find they have a bunch of stuff. I've made peace with that. We don't buy our kids much in the way of extravagant toys or gifts during the year. Birthdays are a big deal around our house, but most of that effort goes into a party, not a gift. So, I've decided not to fight my love of gift-giving, and we spoil our kids at Christmas.

That doesn't work for all families. I talk to a lot of people about their Christmas traditions and gift-giving traditions run the gamut from lots of gifts to one gift to three gifts. I know people who give their kids "something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read." Whatever works for your family is the way you should do it.

However, when you are giving gifts, no matter the number, make sure your kids understand the joy of giving as well as of receiving. 2 Corinthians 9:7 says "God loves a cheerful giver." But, that's sometimes hard for kids to get their heads around. Our greedy nature makes us want to receive more than give. Involve your kids in the gift-giving process. Have them make or pick out the gifts for their friends and family. It may be more work for you, but it gives them a chance to get excited about giving to others.

One tradition that some of my friends have that I love is the right/left Christmas game. It's one more way to sneak in a reading of the story of Jesus' birth while having a lot of fun. You can find the text of the game here. Buy a gift for the whole family. Read the right/left version of the Christmas story. Every time you hear the word "right", pass the package one person to the right. Every time you hear the word "left," pass the package one person to the left. The person left with the package at the end of the story gets to open it. The kids love it and it makes them really listen to the story.

No matter what type of gift-giving traditions you have in your family, be sure to remind your kids that the reason that we give gifts is because Jesus came to earth as a gift to us. The wise men brought Him gifts as an act of worship. We acknowledge those things by giving gifts to each other.

Go, this season, and be cheerful givers.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Jesse Tree

We have a new tree in our house this year -- it's a Jesse tree. What's a Jesse tree, you ask? It's a tree that tells the story of Jesus from the Old Testament to the New Testament through ornaments that you place on the tree every day. The ornaments start with Adam and Eve and take you through Jesus' birth.

The tree's name comes from Isaiah 11, which prophesies Jesus coming to earth. Isaiah 11:1 says "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit." The passage goes on to describe Jesus and how He will rescue the nation of Israel. Jesus is a shoot of Jesse because the line of Jesus can be traced back to David and his father, Jesse.

Our Jesse tree came out of an ornament exchange with some friends. Each person made 28 of one ornament, then we all met and exchanged them. It was a great way to get a Jesse tree with minimal effort and expense. One of the moms put together a booklet that included a scripture passage and a devotional for each day.

The great thing about a Jesse tree is that it ties together the Old Testament stories with Jesus. Your kids (and you) get the opportunity to see how sin entered the world, how God called the Israelites to be his chosen people, how David became king of Israel, how Jesus' birth was prophesied and how Jesus was born. It gives your kids an overview of God's amazing plan for our salvation.

Some nights, we have read the Bible verses that go with the ornament and other nights, we have let the kids tell the stories in their own words. The other night my youngest treated us to a dramatic rendition of the story of David and Goliath complete with actions. The Jesse tree has given us the opportunity to talk about Jesus at the dinner table every night during this holiday season. I'll be honest and tell you that some nights, we've missed but we just catch up on the next night. Our Jesse tree is just another tool to bring Jesus to the forefront during the Christmas season.
You can buy Jesse tree kits, put together your own exchange or even just print the ornaments of any of the numerous websites that have them. It's a simple, fun way to give your kids a bigger picture of God's plan for our salvation.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


There's less than two weeks until Christmas, and I still have Christmas presents to buy and make. We haven't taken the kids on our annual trek to look at Christmas lights or to see the penguin house (a house in our city that has more penguin blow-ups than you would imagine existed). We haven't made a trip to see Santa yet. Every day this week is packed with activity from sports practices to school Christmas parties to church obligations.

I know many of you are in the same boat. This is the time of year when the Christmas season goes from joyful to stressful for so many. It seems like there's so much to be done and not enough time to do it. Despite all our best intentions, the stress of family interactions, Christmas traditions and our own expectations begin to weigh us down and suck the joy out of our celebration of Christ's birth.

So, today, take a moment to rejoice. Whether your house is clean, your baking done or your presents wrapped, take a few minutes to focus on the reason for joy. The angel told the shepherds "Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people." (Luke 2:10) That joy isn't dependent on your circumstances. It doesn't matter if your in-laws drive you crazy or if you haven't finished that last Christmas present. That joy doesn't depend on whether your tree is picture perfect or your Christmas cards have been mailed.

The only thing our joy depends on is Jesus. So, spend a moment or two rejoicing that Jesus, the King and Creator of the world, came to earth as a baby and died so that you and I would no longer be separated from God.
  • Gather your kids and sing some Christmas carols -- ones that celebrate Christ's birth.
  • Have a birthday party to celebrate Jesus' birth. Have some cake and ice cream.
  • Spend some time reading the Christmas story aloud from the Bible as a family. Talk about why the angels declared Jesus' birth a cause for joy.
  • Remind your children that joy is not dependent on circumstances -- it comes from knowing that Jesus' died for us, rose again and bridged the gap between us and God.
So, today, I say to you "Rejoice, and again I say rejoice!"

Monday, December 13, 2010

Memory Monday: The Wise Men (Matthew 2:1-2)

We went to my parents' church last night to see my dad sing in their annual Christmas program. During the program they showed a short, funny video about all the things that are wrong with our nativity scene depictions of Christ's birth. One of the things they pointed out was that the wise men were not present at the birth of Christ, and we have no idea how many of them there were. We only know that they came from the east and they brought three gifts.

Scholars actually think that Jesus was probably a toddler when the wise men showed up. Mary and Joseph were probably living in a house. Can you imagine what the neighbors thought when a bunch of guys on camels bearing expensive gifts showed up at Mary and Joseph's house? They were probably the talk of the neighborhood.

So, if the wise men weren't at Jesus' birth and we're not really sure how many of them there were, why are they so often put into the Christmas scene? I think the answer is found in Matthew 2:1-2, which says "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, 'Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.'"

These men were scholars who were looking for Jesus. When they saw the new star, they believed it would lead them to Jesus, so they followed it. Can you imagine hopping on your camel to follow a star, not knowing how far you would need to go or how long it would take you? If it was a nearly two-year journey to see Jesus, do you think you might have begun to wonder if you were ever going to get there or if you were just chasing a whim?

We don't know if the wise men ever got discouraged on their journey. What we do know is that they saw an opportunity to worship Jesus, and they took it. Despite the challenges and the distance, they were so excited about seeing Jesus that they dropped everything for a chance to worship him. When was the last time you were that excited to worship Jesus?

Too often our worship of Jesus becomes rote. We go to church, we sing the songs and we listen to the pastor and say we have gone "to worship." But true worship begins in our hearts and can be done anywhere, any time. If, like the wise men, we look for opportunities to worship Jesus. He has given us so many reasons to worship Him -- His love, His grace, His peace. Any time we encounter something that reminds us of what Jesus has done for us, it should be a time for worship.

Help your kids recognize opportunities for worship by pointing them out when you see them. If you're awed by a rainbow in the sky, stop and thank God for it. If you are blessed with a joyful spirit, sing a song of praise together. When things aren't going well but you feel the comforting presence of God, take a moment to pray. Worship comprises all of these things -- it's simply bringing praise to God.

As you go throughout your week this week, memorize Matthew 2:1-2 and be like the wise men. Be looking for Jesus and opportunities to worship Him.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Odds and Ends

We have a collapsed gingerbread house sitting on our kitchen table. This year, I bought a gingerbread kit that included several little houses instead of one big one. The girls decorated them and we sat our gingerbreas village on the table as our centerpiece. Apparently, yesterday my oldest daughter hit one of them by accident -- and it collapsed in a heap. What was once a beautifully decorated gingerbread house is now just a heap of icing and gingerbread.

Looking at it reminds me of how we can build up the "perfect" Christmas in our minds, and then our expectations are shattered by a hurtful word from a family member, a party that didn't go as planned or a gift from a spouse that didn't meet our expectations. I don't know when Christmas -- a season of joy -- became the holiday that has to be perfect -- making it a season of stress.

Jesus wasn't born in a stable to make our lives stressful. He came so His sacrifice on the cross could create a bridge between us and God. No matter how hard we try, we can't be perfect. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," says Romans 3:23. John 10:10 tells us that Jesus said "I have come that they may have life and have it to the full." God doesn't want us to spend the Christmas season stressing about the perfect season or the perfect gift. He wants us to celebrate the joy that comes from having a relationship with Him.

So, leave your perfect Christmas dreams behind and find joy in the collapsed gingerbread house, the lopsided angel on the top of the tree, the off-key singing of carols and the strand of lights on your house that has the top bulb burned out. The joy of Christmas is found in Jesus, not in your own perfection.

I've been asked a couple of times to elaborate on what I put in my envelopes that help my kids serve others every day. Here's a few examples:
  • Help a classmate today.
  • Ring the Salvation Army bell.
  • Take cookies to a neighbor.
  • Find a way to help your teacher today.
  • Find a way to help your sister today.
  • Be an encourager today,
  • Do something nice for the lunch ladies today.
  • Find a way to help your mom today.
  • Buy a toy and donate it to toys for tots.
  • Donate some food to the food pantry.
Keep it simple and achievable. Have your kids report back to you at the end of the day how they did. If you miss a day, don't worry about it. Just start again the next day.

I wanted to offer a few ideas on things we do at our cookie party as well. I treat it like I treat a birthday party. Obviously, we decorate cookies, which usually takes 30-45 minutes. After that, we've done a variety of things. Here are some ideas:
  • Take the kids Christmas caroling around the neighborhood.
  • Make aprons.
  • Make Santa hats.
  • Have relay races to decorate a tree or put up all the pieces of a nativity scene on the wall.
  • Take pictures, print them off and let the kids make their own scrapbook page or picture frame.
  • Make gingerbread house crafts.
  • Talk with the kids about whose birthday Christmas is.
  • Make ornaments for them to take home and hang on their tree.
Our party is usually not super elaborate, but the kids have lots of fun. Make your activities suit your kids and their friends.

No matter what activities you choose to do with your kids this Christmas season, remember to keep the focus on Jesus. He is the reason for the season.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Best Gift: Friendship

Believe it or not, my youngest daughter is no longer counting down the days until Christmas. She's now using our advent calendar to count down to something that in her mind is a bigger event. You see, about four years ago, her best friend moved away -- a long way away. She's seen him about once a year since then. On Dec. 20, he arrives with his family on an airplane, and on Dec. 21, he will be at our house. The best part as far as my youngest is concerned is that he is most likely moving back for good. My youngest is counting the days until her friendship is restored to what she considers its rightful state.

She's more excited about her friend coming back than she is about whatever Santa is going to bring or any other Christmas tradition that we have. And that got me to thinking about some of our Christmas traditions. Many of our favorite Christmas traditions revolve around our friends. It just seems that Christmas is a time when we can take a step back and appreciate those people in our lives who are there to laugh with us when life is good and who are there to pick up the pieces when the world shatters around us.

God created us to be social beings, and the Bible talks a lot about the importance of good friends. Proverbs 17:17 says "A friend loves at all times," and John 15:13 tells us "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." God gives us a beautiful picture of friendship in Ruth and Naomi, Jonathan and David and Jesus and his disciples. We are not meant to go through life alone, and Christmas is the perfect time to nurture both our friendships and our children's friendships.

Help your kids to show their friends how much they value them. Small acts of service or a heartfelt gift will make your kids' friends feel loved and special.
  • Ask your kids to tell you why they think friendship is important. Share with them the story of Jonathan and David. Talk about how Jonathan was willing to sacrifice for his friend. Talk about the types of sacrifices we can make for our friends -- choosing to let them play with a new toy or letting them go first in a game.
  • Help your child to celebrate his friendships by letting him design and make gifts for them. Easy things for kids to make include cards with a piece of candy inside, a simple Christmas ornament, a snow globe made out of a baby food jar or necklaces or bracelets made out of beads. A plate of cookies has never been turned down by any kid I know.
  • Make it a point to have friends in your home during the holiday season. Whether it's a cookie party for your kids and their friends or a Christmas open house for friends of the entire family or a quiet dinner with another family, place value on spending time with friends during the holidays.
Celebrate the birth of Jesus with your friends. Have a good time, and be sure to thank God for placing those people in your lives. After all, Matthew 18:20 says "For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them." So, gather, be merry and celebrate Jesus' birth.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


In about two weeks, I'm going to have a dozen giggling, hyper kids in my kitchen, and I'll be handing them bowls full of sugar-laden icing. Am I crazy? Probably, but this is one of my girls' favorite Christmas traditions -- our annual cookie party.

When my oldest was 2, I decided it would be fun to have a couple of her friends over to decorate cookies. They had so much fun that we've done it every year since. The first party started with three kids, and over the years it has grown to about a dozen kids. We decorate cookies, play some games and find some simple ways to share the true meaning of Christmas with the kids who attend.

What started as a fun activity with a couple of preschoolers has turned into a full-fledged party with a purpose. My girls choose a charity, and we collect things from the attendees for that charity. One year we collected art supplies for our local children's hospital; another year we collected canned food for a food pantry. The girls get to have a party and hang out with their friends and they learn something about serving others. Every kid goes home with a plate of cookies for themselves and a plate of cookies to share.

To be honest, there are some years I'd like to do away with the cookie party. It's a lot of extra work in the days right before Christmas. But after every party, I see the smiles on the faces of those kids, and I know that it's worth it. I know those kids leave my house knowing that Christmas is about Jesus. They have all experienced joy and friendship in the two hours they're at our house. The cookie party is as much about reaching out to my kids' friends as it is about making my kids happy.

The more often our kids' friends are under our roofs having fun experiences, the more influence we have in their lives. The Bible tells us that God considers children precious and that we are to pour ourselves into their lives. Jesus said, "“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). Using creative ideas, like a cookie party or a caroling party, we can draw our kids' friends to Jesus as we teach our own children.

So, gather up some of your kids' friends, make some time in your schedule and bake some cookies. When the day is over you'll be exhausted, but you will have made a difference in the lives of your children and their friends.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Acts of Service

A new hockey stick, a couple of Wii games, some art supplies and a new soccer ball. These are the Christmas dreams in the Fairchild house. The lists from my girls this year are reasonable and mostly practical, but some years the lists are long and imaginative. Somehow, this season that should be all about giving often becomes all about getting.

That's why we try to spend the month of December focusing on how we can help others. As winter closes in with its cold and snow, there are people without coats or even homes. The average age of a homeless person in our region is 7 years old. Can you imagine being a homeless child?

Food pantries typically run low on food at this time of the year, and some kids will go without Christmas presents because mom and dad can't afford them. Your kids need to know that they are fortunate, and they also need to know that we are called to take care of those who are less fortunate than us.

From the very beginning, God was clear that we are to help others. In Deuteronomy 15:7, God tells the Israelites "If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them." We, too, are to have open hands and hearts toward those who have less than we have. Proverbs 19:17 tells us "Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward them for what they have done."

If God thinks the poor are important, then so should we. And this time of the year is the perfect time to help your children learn to serve others. Their acts of service don't have to be big or expensive, but they can be. Encourage your children to think of others this Christmas season. Show them how to be the hands and feet of Christ to others.
  • Sign up to ring the Salvation Army bell somewhere in your community. The Salvation Army feeds and houses those who need food and shelter year-round, but their biggest fundraiser is those red kettles in front of the stores at Christmas. Even if it's cold out when you ring, it's a great opportunity to point out to your kids that while you get to go home and get warm afterward, the people the Salvation Army helps may not have homes to go to.
  • Adopt a family. Let your kids shop for another child's Christmas wishes. You'll be surprised at how generous your kids will want to be.
  • Help fill a food pantry. Take your kids to the grocery with a local food pantry's wish list and let them choose the items to buy. Then take the items to the food pantry.
  • Create a service advent calendar. We have envelopes for every day of December until Christmas that hang on a ribbon banner. Each envelope contains a notecard with a suggestion for some way that the girls can serve someone that day. Yesterday, the card told them to help a classmate. Today's card tells them to find a way to help their coach, as both girls have practice today.
  • Take cookies to a nursing home or to your local fire station or police station.
  • Let your children serve kids who are younger than them at a Christmas event at your church.
However you can focus your kids on helping others this month, do it. It can be big or small. Simply getting your kids to focus on other people can keep your kids' Christmas wishes reasonable and give them a chance to obey God's commands to take care of the needy. Make this month, a month of service to others in your home.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Memory Monday: The Shepherds (Luke 2:8-11)

I've always been fascinated by the shepherds to whom the angels appeared on that first Christmas night. I mean, here are these guys out on a hill, watching their sheep. They might have been talking about the weather or shooting the breeze about the best method to fight off a wild animal. Being a shepherd wasn't the most exciting job in the world. Mostly you just led the sheep around and made sure they didn't get lost or hurt.

All of a sudden, an angel appears out of nowhere and starts talking to them. I'm pretty sure that angels aren't the cute little cherubs that we like to depict them as because every time an angel shows up the first words out of his mouth are "Do not be afraid." I think they probably look more like warriors than they do cute, little cherubs.

Ok, so this angel shows up and has these shepherds quaking in their sandals. And what does he say? Luke 2:8-11 describes the scene like this "And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.'"

The first people that got the message that the Savior had been born was not a king or even a religious leader. It was a bunch of lowly shepherds. These guys were not considered important people in society. They were probably the youngest sons in their families. They weren't the smartest, strongest, most important people around. They were just normal, everyday people.

And, what did they do? They left their sheep to go see Jesus! Shepherds don't leave their sheep. Sheep are defenseless without a shepherd. But these guys got up and went to see Jesus. Now, maybe they left one guy behind (and wouldn't you have hated to be him?), but they immediately went to see this amazing thing the angels had told them about.

I bet God wishes we were more like the shepherds sometimes. He shows us something amazing, and instead of being awed by it or immediately dropping what we're doing to be a part of what God is doing, we analyze and overthink the situation. The shepherds knew they were part of something amazing -- I mean, angels had just appeared to them -- so they went to check it out.

As you learn these verses this week, think about how the shepherds reacted to the Good News of Jesus' birth. They dropped everything to celebrate. How can you celebrate Jesus' birth like the shepherds did?
  • Have a birthday party for Jesus. Make a cake and sing happy birthday to Jesus. You can even hang streamers. Talk about how God wants us to praise Him and celebrate Jesus' birth.
  • Analyze your schedule for the month. Are you doing things that are just filling up your schedule instead of things that are important. Is Jesus getting squeezed out of your Christmas celebrations or is He the center? Make adjustments to your schedule to put Jesus at the center.
  • Talk with your kids about the shepherds and how they celebrated Jesus' birth. Ask your kids how they think the shepherds might have felt when the angels showed up.
Be a shepherd this week. Be prepared to drop everything when a moment to celebrate Jesus' birth presents itself.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Conversations About Mary

Of all the people involved in Jesus' birth, I've always wondered the most about Mary. Of all the Jewish women in the world at that time, God chose her to be the mother of Jesus. What was it about her that made God choose her? We know she wasn't perfect. We know she was young -- probably just a teenager. She wasn't married, and she had no experience being a mother. What was it about her that made her the one to be Jesus' mother?

I think we find the key in her reactions to everything that happened. When the angel appeared to Mary and told her she was going to have a baby, she asked some questions -- who wouldn't? But, her final response was this "'I am the Lord’s servant,' Mary answered. 'May your word to me be fulfilled.'" She was a woman with a great faith in God and a spirit that was accepting of His plan.

There's no way that Mary could know what being the mother of Jesus would mean. She couldn't have known that she would watch Him perform miracles and then watch Him die on a cross. Jesus would bring her great joy and the greatest of sorrows. Through it all, we see Mary simply being Jesus' mother.

When the shepherds came to see her newborn son -- whom she'd had in a dirty stable, of all places -- her response was this "But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." (Luke 2:19). Mary knew that what was happening was an amazing blessing from God, so she treasured the moments in her heart.

Can you imagine being Jesus' mother? Jesus was perfect. While we all wish for the perfect child, can you imagine raising one? Can you imagine the feelings of inadequacy that raising the perfect son of God would create in a mother? Yet, throughout Jesus' life, we see Mary in the midst of things. She was there at his birth, when he performed his first miracle and at his death. She clearly loved Him as any mother loves her child.

Spend some time today bringing Mary alive for your children. Making sure your kids understand that the story of Jesus' birth isn't just another story that we read -- it really happened -- is important. It's so easy for our kids to just throw the stories of the Bible into the mix of everything else they see and read and not really recognize that Jesus is real. Making the retelling of the story come alive for them helps them to understand that the people involved were real. They had feelings and concerns.

Read Luke 1 and 2 with your kids and have them focus on what Mary says and does. Depending on their age, ask your kids these questions about Mary:
  • How do you think Mary felt when the angel appeared to her? Point out that the Bible tells us she was afraid.
  • How old do you think Mary was? Tell your kids that she was only a teenager.
  • How do you think it felt to be pregnant and ride a donkey on the long trip to Bethlehem?
  • What do you think Mary thought about having her baby in a stable?
  • How do you think Mary felt when the shepherds appeared?
Be real with your kids. Tell them about the dirty stable, the uncomfortable journey to Bethlehem and what the Bible tells us about Mary's feelings. Make her come alive for your children so that Jesus becomes real to them as well.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sharing Jesus

Last night, I let my kids do something that under normal circumstances, I would never let them do. I let them ding-dong ditch the neighbors -- you know, when you ring the doorbell and run. They thought it was great fun, and believe it or not, they were sharing Jesus.

You see, before we rang the doorbell, we put a stable from a nativity scene on their porch with a note stating that it was part of the 12 Days of Christmas. Every night for the next 11 days, the girls will leave a piece of the nativity scene with the related scripture on the doorstep, ring the doorbell and run. It's a fun experience for my girls and it's a great way to bring the true meaning of Christmas to others.

As we hustle through this busy season, be careful not to forget to help your kids find ways to share Jesus with other people. You don't have to take your kids to the street corner and preach or go door-to-door presenting the Roman road to salvation to your neighbors. Simply find ways to let your kids be ambassadors for Jesus. People are often more receptive to hearing about Jesus during the Christmas season, and your kids need to know that the gift of Jesus is available to everyone.

We are called to share the good news of Jesus' birth with everyone. Matthew 28:19-20 tells us "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." That circle includes our family, friends and neighbors.

Try some of these ideas to help your children share Jesus with those they love:
  • Choose Christmas cards for your kids' teachers and friends that include a message about Jesus. These don't have to be "preachy." Simply choose cards that celebrate Jesus' birth rather than Santa or a snowman.
  • Ding-dong ditch the neighbors with a nativity set or a plate of cookies with a note that tells them to celebrate Jesus' birth.
  • Let your kids invite their friends to one of your Christmas church services. Extend the invitation to the whole family.
Jesus is the reason we celebrate Christmas. Don't hesitate to help your kids share that reason with others.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

And That's What Christmas is All About, Charlie Brown

I love the Charlie Brown Christmas special. Every year when we sit down to watch it I get goose bumps when Linus recites Luke 2. I think it's amazing that in our politically correct world that has taken the Christ out of Christmas that millions of people still sit down and watch a TV show that overtly explains that Jesus is the reason that we celebrate Christmas.

A few years ago, I found a new ornament for our Christmas tree. The ornament has Linus standing on a stage. When you push the button, you hear him recite Luke 2, finishing with the words "And that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown." I brought it home and hung it on our tree.

My youngest was fascinated with the ornament. She would push the button over and over again. By the time Christmas rolled around, she could recite Luke 2 along with Linus.

Without even meaning to, I had provided my child with the opportunity to hear and learn the scripture that explains Jesus' birth. After that experience, I began to look for more ways that my kids could encounter Christ during this season of His birth. The more opportunities we give ourselves to talk with our kids about the true meaning of Christmas, the more He will become real to them. Try some of these ideas:
  • Put nativity scenes in every room. Make sure you have at least one nativity scene that your children can touch and play with. As they play with the figures, you can talk with them about Jesus' birth.
  • Put ornaments on your tree that include the story of Jesus. Hallmark has a fantastic ornament this year that tells the entire story of Jesus' birth. It's a countdown ornament, so each day you turn the base of the ornament and it tells a different part of the story.
  • Find decorations that include Jesus, scripture or references to God. As your kids see and read those decorations, it will reinforce what Christmas is really about.
Take a few minutes and analyze how you can incorporate the message of Christ's birth into your home in subtle ways that will impact your children. And as we close today, I'd like to leave you with Linus' words from Luke 2:

Lights, please

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.
(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

And that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.