One of the things I love about Christmas is celebrating advent with my family. There is something about the lights, the time off the kids have from school, and their wonderment that makes remembering what God did for us in sending Jesus to this world to live among us and bring us salvation such a special time. As a family we spend time weekly leading up to Christmas remembering different parts of the Christmas story. I thought I would share the format we are using this year in this blog post. I know it is late in the season and Christmas is almost here, but take a couple of the ideas and see if they work with your family. Merry Christmas and enjoy celebrating the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ!
Day 1: Angel’s Announcement to Mary and Joseph
Read: Luke 1:26-38 (Mary); Matthew 1:25 (Joseph)
Question to Ponder: What do you think it was like to get a message from an angel? What does it mean that the angel told them about Jesus ahead of time?
Activity: Take a moment and write down one thing the Lord has told you or taught you this past year. Then share that thought with the family.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for working through ordinary people like Mary and Joseph and for their faith and trust in you. May we respond to the things you are trying to teach us in our lives in the same way they did to the message of Jesus’ birth. Thank you for all you did to tell us ahead of time that Jesus was coming in your word. Amen.
Day 2: Shepherd’s encounter with the Angels and Jesus
Read: Luke 2:8-20
Question: Why do you think the shepherds were so excited? What do you think it looked like to glorify and praise God?
Activity: Write a thank you letter to Jesus for all he has done for you. Be sure to thank him for who he is and share why you are excited to celebrate his birthday. Place the cards under the tree so we can read them out loud on Christmas morning.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for coming down to this earth as a human just like we are and for showing us how to live. We are excited to celebrate your birthday with you this month and look forward to the day we can celebrate with you forever in heaven. Amen.
Day 3: Wisemen Bring Gifts
Read: Matthew 2:1-18
Question to Ponder: What did each of the gifts the wisemen brought signify? Where they worth a lot?
Activity: Make an ornament to hang on the tree as a gift to Jesus. Write one thing you want to give him this year from your life. It could be sharing with others or anything you want.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for the gift of life that you have given us by coming to this earth, dying for us, and being resurrected from the dead so we can have that new life. Help us to be wise in our own lives like the wisemen were in how they responded to Herod. We give you our lives as you gave yours for us. Amen.
Day 4: Jesus’ Birthday
Read: Luke 2-1-20 & John 1:1-14
Question to Ponder: Why is Jesus’ birthday so important?
Activity: Tell the Christmas story using the nativity set as props. Each person takes turns reading a piece of the story and placing the nativity pieces in place. Then sing happy birthday to Jesus and each person takes turns reading their thank you notes to Jesus out loud. Close by singing “silent night” together & prayer.
Credit: Free images from acobox.com
Credit: Free images from acobox.com
Developing the character of Christ and looking for ways to develop spiritual habits that connect our boys to Christ are challenging things to do with so many competing things in our boys lives. They are involved in church as well as school but we need to be the disciplers of our kids. To make this happen in our boys lives we have two things we do in this area.
First we want to have a time where our family engages in discussing what God is doing in our lives so they see that our faith is not merely a meeting we attend a couple of times a week but something we live out and integrate into our lives. So we make sure we eat lunch together after church on Sunday and we review what they learned in the children’s program that day and we share what we learned in big church. We are fortunate that our church puts the videos they use with our kids online along with a study guide for families to use to discuss the things they learned (http://saddleback.com/mediacenter/saddlebackkids/). I use my iPhone to view the video and the discussion guide and we have a great time sharing and looking for ways to apply the things we have learned.
Second we want the boys to see the power of scripture in their lives and to begin to develop the habit of spending a regular time with God in his word. So each boy has an iPod with the bible reading app on it. They have a daily reading plan and we have them read or listen through that plan. The great thing about the YouVersion Bible App (http://www.youversion.com/mobile/iphone) is that they can track along with it and it will read it to you. So they boys have an instant plan and can choose how they want to engage the text. I also created an internal blog on my Mac using Lion Server (you can use any kind of word program) where they journal what they have learned at least a couple times a week. Those journals are then available for everyone to see so we also learn from one another.
These two things have helped us to develop habits in our kids lives and to have spiritual conversations to help them to grow.
One of the things every kid needs to know is that they are unique and good at something. They also need to understand that the things that God has given them are not for the purpose of using them for themselves but to use for the good of others. 1 Corinthians 12:7 says, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” So our gifts are not for ourselves but for others. One of the things our boys need in their lives are the following:
They need to know they are loved unconditionally
They need to know we are proud of them.
They need to know they are good at something.
What we on regular basis is express our love verbally and let them know how proud we are of them, not just for their achievements, but because of who they are. If our boys are going to ever minister to others they need to be filled up with love and sense of who they are in Christ and we can model that through our love and expression of how special they are to us. We also point out the gifts that God has put in their hearts and has given them and help them to see ways they can develop and use those things to serve others.
Helping our boys have a global worldview and a heart for people and the gospel is something that is important to us. In our boys Kids Small Group experience they were able to share their testimonies with a younger group of kids and really got to process what it meant for them that Christ was their savior. Part of helping them to be open to sharing this with their friends is to help them to remember the things God is doing and has done in their lives and to also help them develop a biblical worldview so they know how to respond to the challenges they will face on a daily basis. To help with this we use the things they may view on television through commercials or their cartoons to talk about whether those things are presenting a biblical perspective or not. One thing I learned from our Pastor was to have the boys be able to point out which of the aspects of lust (lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, pride of life) does each commercial appeal to. It actually makes commercial bearable and a teachable moment at the same time! In addition to having these world view discussions, we try to remember all of the times we have seen God show up in our lives. Remembering those things is a theme expressed throughout the scriptures and is something that parents are commanded to do with their kids in the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” One of the things we are going to start doing is recording the ways we have seen God show up in our lives and write them on stones that we will put in a pot that we will pull out and review often. Helping our boys to reflect and remember is a crucial part to helping them have a biblical worldview.
As you can see nothing here is rocket science. These are just some basic things we are trying to do with our kids to help them always remember God’s presence in their lives and to help to grow to have a love for God that is greater than their love for anything else. We are not perfect at this and have times where we are not as consistent as we want to be. But having a plan has helped us to stay focused on what is important! What are some ways you help your kids grow spiritually?
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to raise spiritually healthy kids. I have three boys at home, two of which have Aspergers (a high functioning form of Autism). Cheryl and I are challenged on a regular basis to figure out ways to keep them engaged spiritually and looking for ways to help them process things from a biblical perspective. I find that many approaches to raising biblically healthy kids usually are either too complex to make them practical or involve making sure your kids attend the church regularly. Now all of these approaches are valid and have some good points to them, but in the day to day of a busy home with kids who are being asked to do more and more when it comes to school work, how do we practically develop the habits necessary to help them integrate their faith into their lives?
Credit: Free images from acobox.com
Credit: Free images from acobox.com
At the church I attend we have the five purposes as a paradigm for things to aim at as it relates to spiritual growth. Those five things are worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and mission and they come from the Great Commandment (Matthew 22) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28). These five things serve as the basis for what our children’s small groups process uses to train our kids. As Cheryl and I thought through this process we decided to look for ways we could make these five things visible in our own home and reinforce what they are already learning in their small group. Here are some things we have been doing on a regular basis:
We want to help our kids connect their lives to God and learn that worship is about bringing the moment by moment things of their lives to Him. As Romans 12:2 says,“And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.” Beyond talking to them about life and processing the things that are happening from a biblical worldview, we started praying a blessing over them every night as a part of our bedtime ritual. I will pray with each boy separately and pray Numbers 6:25-27 “ May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace. I also pray Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” I will then pray for the events of the next day and for their character. We started this about 4 years ago and today the kids are always making sure that I don’t forget to this. It has created a teachable moment and a way to worship God together on a daily basis.
Helping our boys learn to do relationships is quite a challenge especially when we have two boys who don’t understand all of the nuances of relating to people because of their Aspergers. Yet we want to make sure they know how to handle conflict and how to resolve the issues that can creep up in relationships. Beyond processing what happens in relationships on a regular basis we have set up two things we want them to catch: Confession and Forgiveness. James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” The ability to see a wrong that they have committed and confessing that to the person they have wronged is a huge piece of being able to have deep fellowship with others. Most conflict in relationships is due to the fact that people don’t know how and refuse to admit their part and apologize for it. Confession deals with the guilt we carry around in life and frees us from being ruled by it. Forgiveness is all about releasing the resentment we might have towards someone else. Colossians 3:13 says, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” We are to forgive as God through Christ has forgiven us. So we teach the boys to handle confession and forgiveness like this:
Confession: “I’m sorry I did ____________. Will you Forgive me?”
Forgiveness: “I forgive you for doing that. We are ok”
In doing this we are hoping that they catch the fact that they need to quickly release the guilt and resentment they could have in life and that relationships with others are worth healing and making right.
In Part 2, we will discuss the other three purpose areas and how we are trying to help our boys to see those things and live them out in their own lives. These are just starting points but we have seen some cool things start to happen in their lives as a result. What are some things you have done in the areas of worship and fellowship to help your kids grow?