Family

Gospel-Centered Music for Your Kids!

kelly-sikkema-350035.jpg

I love to hear kids sing. I really love hearing them sing gospel truths. With children you never know what they will pick up. They may pick up your mannerisms, speaking inflections, the way you say things. They are walking sponges. With that in mind, why not let them listen to and learn songs that teach scripture? Why not learn these songs together as a family? Sovereign Grace Music puts out some great albums with the purpose of teaching kids the truths of the gospel in fun and eclectic styles. Their latest album, entitled “Listen Up!” features songs that revolve around the parables of Jesus. Take a listen! 

Their previous album is filled with theologically rich songs that teach who God is and what He has done for us in fun ways. It will definitely get everyone in the family singing. This one has become a favorite. Listen to it here!

Three Gifts to Give Your Kids This Christmas

Three Gifts to Give Your Kids This Christmas.jpg

While Christmas may be “the most wonderful time of the year,” it’s also one of the busiest and most stressful times of the year.  Often times, we rush around to decorate our homes, attend Christmas parties, make memories with our families, make and send Christmas cards, and buy gifts – all on top of our normally packed schedules. For those of us who lead in the church, from elder to staff member to dedicated volunteer, our service to our church family crowds our schedules even more.

We are just a few days away from Christmas and many of us are probably finding ourselves short on time to finish up our Christmas to-do lists,. The hope of making this year’s celebration meaningful and memorable seems to be a fleeting thought. Whether or not your children get their “must-haves,” there are a few gifts that won’t show up on their lists that may just be the most important.

THE GIFT OF YOURSELF

For kids, there’s nothing like presents piled high beneath a tree on Christmas morning. But even if you got them everything on their list and more, it’s far more important that you remember to give them the gift of yourself. It can be tempting to think that because we sought out, paid for, wrapped, and gave a bunch of great gifts that our parenting duties for Christmas are done. That is far from the truth.

As parents, we are called to represent the heart of God the Father to our children. He doesn’t simply give us gifts that we want because we want them. What He wants most is for us to enjoy Him, not the gifts He gives us.  That’s what we really want and need, anyway – to be known and loved by our Father God.

He doesn’t simply give us gifts that we want because we want them. What He wants most is for us to enjoy Him, not the gifts He gives us..jpg

Our kids, too, want something more than a new toy.  They want to be known and loved by their parents, and to be secure in that love. And as you give them that gift of yourself, you are pointing them to their deeper desire to be known and loved by a heavenly Father.

So, after Christmas lunch, resist the urge to go take a nap, watch TV, or get some “me” time in. Take time to play with all the new toys that you just gave your kids. Watch your favorite Christmas movie with them, even though you've seen it ten times already. Get beaten at that new video game over and over again.  Build a tower with their new blocks, watch them knock it down, and help them build it again.

By giving the gift of yourself to your children, you’ll be blessing them and yourself as well.  And after all, the best gift that God ever gave us was the gift of Himself, as a baby boy on that first Christmas morning.

THE GIFT OF GIVING

In Acts 20:35, Paul quotes Jesus as having said “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” As a new parent, this year will be the first year that I have the opportunity to stay up late on Christmas Eve and prepare the living room with Asher's presents. This is something I've waited so long to do; it will truly be much better to give than to receive this year. However, our children simply won’t believe it. Their Christmas lists are full of things that they want to receive, not things they want to give.

That means it’s up to us, their parents, to lead them to experience and understand this great truth. Find ways for your family to give to others together this Christmas. Talk to your Missional Community about any needs in the community, or simply make cookies to give out door to door to your neighbors.

I know of one family who wanted to serve children in the Dominican Republic over the summer, but they were having a tough time raising all the needed financial support. So, they decided to use most of the year’s Christmas budget toward their mission trip, and let their kids know about their decision. While it wasn’t the children’s favorite Christmas morning ever, after the trip, they expressed how thankful they were that their parents had made that decision. Their eyes had been open to the true joys of generosity.

As you lead them in generosity, you’re giving them the gift of joy. After all, Jesus Himself promised that it is more blessed to give than to receive, so it’s a promise you can count on.

THE GIFT OF KNOWING GOD

Only the Holy Spirit can draw your children to know and trust in Christ. However, there is a lot that we parents can do to point our children to the joy of knowing God and to their need for a Savior. One of the best gifts you could give your kids this Christmas is a renewed dedication to leading your children to know and follow Jesus Christ.

He doesn’t simply give us gifts that we want because we want them. What He wants most is for us to enjoy Him, not the gifts He gives us. (1).jpg

Leading your kids to know Christ as Lord starts with you knowing and loving Him yourself. Your children are learning from your example each and every day, whether you think they are paying attention or not. That’s why Moses, when he is telling Israel how to lead their children to know the law, starts with this statement:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.” (Deuteronomy 6:5-6)

It is only after he says this that Moses talks about teaching your children diligently as we go about our lives.

For some of us, the greatest gift we can give our children this Christmas is a renewed commitment to pursue Christ. Perhaps our habits of regular Scripture reading and prayer have slipped in the holiday busyness. Pray that God would renew your passion to know Him, and then dedicate yourselves to growing in your faith. It will be good for your spirit, and good for your kids too. I pray that all of us parents would be able to say with Paul, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)

Another gift you can give your children is leading them to know God themselves, not simply by your example. If every child in your home doesn’t have their own, age-appropriate Bible, then I recommend adding that to the gifts under the tree this year. The Jesus Storybook Bible is excellent at pointing our minds to Jesus throughout all of the stories of the Bible. Also, pray with your spouse about how you can help your children develop the habit of reading the Bible and praying daily, either as a family or individually.

Even though these three gifts – the gift of yourself, the gift of giving, and the gift of knowing God – won’t make any child’s Christmas list this year, I guarantee our children will be blessed on receiving them. I pray that we all will find time in this busy Christmas season to make these gifts a priority.

Guarding Our Children

markus-petritz-135033.jpg

Since stepping into the role of Student Director at New City, I have had a number of conversations and overheard many parents talking about keeping their students safe and well guarded when it comes to the internet. Becoming a father recently has caused me to think even more about guarding young eyes. Here is an article by Tim Challies with helpful tips, resources, and thoughts about how to protect your family. 


"I am a father of three children who are fully part of the digital generation. They are as comfortable with iPods as I am with a paperback and have only ever known a world where almost all of us have cell phones with us at all times, where Facebook is a teenager’s rite-of-passage, where every home has five or ten or twenty devices that can access the rest of the world through the Internet. Yet I know of the dangers that are lurking out there, waiting to draw them in.

I want to protect my children in a world like this, but I want to do more than that. I want to disciple my children to live virtuously, to use these new technologies for good purposes instead of bad ones. I believe this is a crucial part of my calling as a parent. To address this great need, I have put together what I call The Porn-Free Family Plan. It is a plan designed to protect my children from online dangers so that I can train them to use their devices and technologies well.

The Porn-Free Family Plan

A thorough plan needs to account for three types of device:

  • Fixed devices. These are the devices will only ever be used in the home. Here we have desktop computers in the home office or Internet-enabled televisions and gaming consoles. Parents can have a significant level of control over these devices.
  • Mobile devices. These are the laptops, tablets, smart phones and other devices that can be used in the home but also carried out of the home and used elsewhere. Parents can have as lesser degree of control over these devices.
  • Other people’s devices. These are the computers children may use at another person’s home or the tablets other children may show to their friends. Parents can have no control over these devices.

In all of this there are two broad goals: To prevent those who want to find pornography and to protect those who do not want to find it but who may otherwise find themselves exposed to it, to confound those who want to see porn and to shield those who don’t. And while the plan is geared specifically to combat pornography, it will also help battle other online dangers.

The Porn Free Family Plan has four steps: Plan, Prepare, Meet and Monitor.

Plan

You’ve heard the old maxim: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. The maxim applies well to what we are attempting to accomplish here. A successful plan will need to account for every device in your home that combines an Internet connection with a screen. So let’s get to work.

Step 1: Inventory
You need to know exactly how many Internet-enabled devices you have in your home. To do this, you will need to take an inventory. Make a list of all your Internet-enabled devices: desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and smart phones. Don’t forget the Playstation 3, Xbox, smart televisions, Apple TVs, iPods, and e-reader tablets. Even a Kindle reading device has basic web-browsing capabilities. A family recently reported that after doing this they were shocked to learn they had 22 devices to account for!

Step 2: Budget
Decide whether you are able to make Internet security a regular and recurring monthly expense. Where it used to cost money to access pornography, today it often costs money to avoid it. While there are free options available, the best services have a cost associated with them. A budget of $20-$25 per month will allow a family to take advantage of the premier options.

Step 3: Learn
Now that you have taken your inventory and have a better grasp of the devices your plan needs to account for, it is time to learn about the options available to protect those who use them. There are four broad categories of protection we have available:

  • Filtering. Filtering proactively detects and blocks objectionable content. (Examples: If your child does an Internet search for “naked girls,” it will block the search; If your child mistakenly clicks a link to a pornographic web site, it will block access to the site.)
  • Accountability. Accountability software tracks web sites visited from different devices and then prepares and delivers regular reports. (Example: If your child visits a pornographic web site or performs a search for “naked girls,” the accountability software will note it and include it in a report emailed to you.)
  • Parental controls. Parental controls block certain functions of modern devices (Examples: Preventing the use of the Internet browser on an iPod Touch; preventing the use of the Facebook app on a tablet).
  • Communication. We cannot rely on technology to solve all of our problems, so the plan must also involve regular, deliberate and open communication.

Because none of these offers complete protection, the wise plan must use some combination of all four. The Porn-Free Family plan uses the following tools:

  • OpenDNS. OpenDNS uses filtering to automatically block objectionable web sites for every device connected to your home network. It is activated by making a small change to the settings on your existing router. 
  • Covenant Eyes. Covenant Eyes tracks the web sites visited by your computers and mobile devices and sends regular email reports; it also offers optional filtering that can be configured specifically for each member of your family.
  • Parental Controls. Parental controls allow parents to disable certain functions on devices.
  • Meetings. The most indispensable tool is regular, open, deliberate communication between parents and their children.

Step 4: Discuss
Before you begin to implement the plan, it may be a good idea to meet with your family to explain what you are about to do and what you hope to accomplish by it. You will be inconveniencing your family and putting rules in place that will impact them, so it may be wise to discuss these things with them.

 

Prepare

Let’s get started in putting that plan in place. This will take a couple of hours, so set aside the time, brew yourself a coffee, and get to it!

Step 1: Create Passwords
Master password. At the very top of the list is creating your master password. Your whole plan may fail if you choose a bad password or fail to protect it. Make it good (something that is difficult to guess and combines letters with numbers) and make sure you store it somewhere safe if you are not certain you will remember it. You may also need to create a 4-digit master password for mobile devices.

Family passwords. You also need to create a password for every other person in your home. Create passwords that will be easy for them to remember, but hard for others to guess. Every child needs to know his own password and only his own password. Make sure you record these passwords somewhere safe. If your children use mobile devices, you may also need to create mobile passwords for your children—usually 4-digit codes. Once again, make sure you know these codes and make sure you store them somewhere safe.

Step 2: Sign Up & Create Accounts
With your passwords in place, it is time to sign up for the services you will be using.

OpenDNS. We will begin by signing up for OpenDNS.

  • Visit OpenDNS (www.opendns.com) and look for their Parental Control Solution. OpenDNS Family Shield is a great place to begin (Alternatively, OpenDNS Home VIP is the optional, premier solution and costs $19.95 per year). 
  • Create a user account for yourself using your master password.
  • Take a look at the different filtering options and set the ones appropriate for your family. Whatever you set here will apply to every device that accesses the Internet through your home network.
  • Note: It would be best to set the filter to block more rather than less, and to loosen it if and when you find that it is blocking too many sites.

Covenant Eyes. You have signed up for your filtering; now it’s time to sign up for the accountability software.

  • Visit Covenant Eyes (www.covenanteyes.com) and create an account using your master password.
  • Add each member of your family as a user and assign the password you created for each of them.
  • Sign up each user for accountability monitoring and have the reports sent to your email address every 3 to 7 days. Choose an accountability level appropriate to their age and maturity.
  • If you would like to have user-specific filtering in addition to the general filtering with OpenDNS, configure that as well. Choose a filtering level appropriate to each person’s age and maturity. It may also be wise to disable Internet access during certain times (Example: Disable all Internet access for your children after 9 PM and before 7 AM).
  • Note: It is best to set the filter and accountability to block and report more and to relax the filtering levels only if and when it is proving cumbersome.

Computers. Now you need to create user accounts on each of your computers and laptops (and tablets if they allow multiple users).

  • For every computer in your home you will need to create an account for each person who uses it. This means that if there are five people in your family and they each use the family computer, you will need to create five accounts—one for each of them.
  • Create an account for yourself using your master password and ensure that you have administrator privileges.
  • Then create a user account for each family member using the password you created for them; make sure that they do not have administrator privileges.

Let me offer a warning: This step can be laborious, especially if you have multiple computers. Persevere!

Step 3: Install Software
Now that we have created our accounts, we can install and activate OpenDNS and Covenant Eyes.

Install OpenDNS on your router. OpenDNS is activated with a simple change on your home router and managed through an online interface at www.opendns.com. You will need to refer to OpenDNS to learn how to change the appropriate settings. As soon as you do this, your filtering will be activated. Just like that, you are already beginning to protect your family.

Install Covenant Eyes on every laptop and desktop computer in your home. Visit www.covenanteyes.com, log in to your account, download the appropriate software, and install it. Log in to each account on each computer and ensure that the Covenant Eyes software is running properly (look for the “open eye” icon).

Mobile Devices. If you have decided to allow browser access on your mobile devices, install the Covenant Eyes browser on those devices (typically by visiting an app store and downloading the app). Note: If you wish to have Covenant Eyes on your mobile devices, you will also need to use parental controls (see below) to block access to any other browser on those devices.

Gaming Consoles. Remove Internet browser access on all gaming consoles. Also consider removing access to YouTube, Netflix and other video sites.

Other Devices. Return to your inventory list and see what other devices you need to account for. Your plan will only be as strong its weakest point.

Step 4: Apply Parental Controls
Set parental controls on all mobile devices. To make this effective on devices owned by your children, you will need to set a parental control password and use this password to ensure only you have access to the parental controls. Here are the settings I recommend for devices used by children:

  • Ensure devices lock as soon as they are no longer in use.
  • Turn off web browsing. If your children need web browsing, install the Covenant Eyes browser and use parental controls to block access to all other browsers.
  • Turn off the ability to install new apps without inputting your password.
  • Turn off the ability to change their own password or account information.
  • Consider turning off Facebook, Twitter and other social media apps (since these apps often have a built-in browser that will allow them to visit web sites while bypassing all accountability software).
  • Consider turning off the camera access if you are concerned that your child may misuse. Be especially cautious with applications that combine social media with a camera (Snapchat, Instagram, etc).

Congratulations! You made it through. You know what devices are in the home, and you have accounted for each one by installing filtering and accountability software. There is just one problem: Everyone in your family is upset with you! So now it is time for that family meeting.

Meet

We tend to believe that problems caused by technology can be solved by more technology. However, what is stronger, better, and longer-lasting than even the best technology, is character. The family meeting is where you discuss and emphasize the importance and the growth of character.

I suggest having an occasional family-wide meeting to discuss the system, and regular one-on-one meetings with your children to ask them specific questions and ask for specific feedback.

Step 1: The Family Meeting
The actual content of the family meeting will depend to some degree on the age of your children. Here are some ideas for talking points:

  • Concern. Because of your concern for their well-being, you have taken actions to protect them as they use the Internet. Explain that you do not view your children as criminals or porn addicts, but that you do wish to protect them from online dangers. Depending on the age of your children, this may be a good time to explain that there are so many people who struggle with pornography that they may need to expect that some day they will face the temptation as well.
  • Privacy. Your children—and especially young children—should have no expectation of privacy when they use their devices. They should know that you will have liberty to check their devices without their permission and that their online actions will generate reports that you intend to monitor. You are doing this in order to love and protect them.
  • Passwords. Everyone needs to know the importance of passwords and that you expect them to protect theirs. They may not share their passwords with their siblings or their friends.
  • Readiness. You need to speak to your children about Internet safety outside the home. Talk to them about what to do if they are accessing devices in other people’s homes. Explain to them what they should do if someone shows them pornographic or otherwise inappropriate material.
  • Mom and Dad. If you have decided to hold yourself to the same standards—to use filtering and accountability software (something I recommend!)—this is a good time to explain that to the children.

Step 2: One-on-One Meetings
Parents and their children will benefit tremendously from having regular discussions about online dangers and concerns. The conversations will vary a great deal depending on the age and maturity level of the child. Here are some questions you may consider asking:

  • Are you able to access everything you need to access online?
  • Are you feeling tempted to look for things online that you know you shouldn’t look for?
  • Do you know if your friends are looking at pornography and talking about it?
  • Have you looked at pornography since the last time we met?

I trust you have prepared yourself for some push-back and some frustration, especially at the beginning. Your children will probably find that they cannot access certain sites or that they need to input passwords where before they did not. Your spouse may find that she cannot access certain sites she wants to. Persevere, and address each issue as it arises.

Monitor

The plan is in place, and your family is now benefiting from some level of protection. But this not a plan you can set in place and simply leave to run its course. It requires monitoring and maintenance.

  • Covenant Eyes Reports. Covenant Eyes will send you regular reports. Do not expect these reports to be as helpful as you want them to be. You will need to take some time—two or three minutes—to look carefully over the report looking for anything that seems amiss. Follow-up with any of your children whose report shows a red flag.
  • OpenDNS Reports. OpenDNS also collects reports, including pages and searches it has blocked. While you will not know who is responsible for these blocks, you would do well to keep an eye on them, to look for patterns, and so on.
  • Adjust. As your children grow older you may find that you need to adjust their privileges. You may also find that as they grow older they face greater temptations which will require fewer privileges. Be willing to adjust accordingly.
  • Maintain. Covenant Eyes updates their software on a regular basis. As they do this, you will want to install the new updates.

Conclusion

And that’s the Porn-Free Family Plan. It takes a couple of hours of hard work to set up, but it is time well-invested. Even then, this plan is not fool-proof—no plan is completely fool-proof. There will be ways around it for those committed to finding those ways. Covenant Eyes will occasionally block something harmless; OpenDNS will sometimes fail to filter something that obviously ought to be filtered. Yet the plan will suffice for most families in most circumstances. You are well on your way to training and protecting your children."

Advancing the Gospel...When Life is Hard

This past week we spent our time in Philippians 1:12-26 as Paul demonstrated his absolute commitment to Jesus and His mission, even while he was in prison facing a trial that could lead to his execution.

His demonstration of Jesus' Gospel becoming his own Gospel was a powerful illustration of commitment to serving God's Kingdom and not our own. We all have challenges and circumstances that we can use as a reason to not live out the call on our lives, but don't fall to the temptation. Paul relied on the Holy Spirit and the prayers of friends to remember his identity in Christ. His actions revealed his heart.

When life get's hard or distracting, how do you keep your focus on God's Kingdom and not distracted by our own?

Take a moment to read one family's struggle with the same temptation and their fight to stay on the mission God has called us to.

****

MAKING DISCIPLES AS A SPECIAL NEEDS PARENT

Families with complicated lives can still be missional.

by Rachelle Cox

How was a family like ours supposed to live out the practice of discipleship? The instruction in Matthew 28:19 seemed impossible for us.

Roughly six years ago, a miserable “stomach flu” turned into cause for celebration; I was pregnant with my second child. My husband and I had previous miscarriages, so we held our breath through the first trimester. After a few months of a normal, healthy pregnancy we apprehensively picked out a name for our daughter: Katherine. At 35 weeks, however, my unremarkable pregnancy turned perilous. A sonogram revealed our baby had developed fluid on her brain, building up dangerous pressure under her skull. Further inspection also uncovered the evidence of a stroke. Katherine was delivered within 24 hours of the frightening discovery, and throughout the next year she was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, Epilepsy, Blindness, Autism, heart defects, and much more.

Our lives changed almost immediately. Medical bills and appointments began to stack up, and my husband had to pick up a second job. Meanwhile, I quit my career to chauffeur Katherine from hospital to hospital. Our parenting debates even changed; instead of cloth versus disposable diapers, we were discussing whether our infant should take Klonopin or Valium. By the time Katherine was two, my husband and I were mostly adjusted to this new reality, and these once-intimidating tasks were almost easy.

We were still stumped by one problem not medical in nature, but missional. How was a family like ours supposed to live out the practice of discipleship? The instruction in Matthew 28:19 seemed impossible for us. “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” Jesus couldn’t have meant all Christians, right? In addition to the responsibilities all families juggle, Katherine had an average of ten appointments per week and a dozen medications to keep track of. We felt like we had too much on our plate to be effective disciple-makers. We believed our family was the exception to Christ’s commandment, and so for several years we were only on the receiving end of discipleship. Friends would serve us, counsel us, encourage us, and teach us. It seemed unlikely we would ever pour back into anyone other than our kids. Eventually we realized our perspective on discipleship was too limiting and that Christ’s call was for everyone—even special needs parents.

Correcting Misconceptions

Modern evangelical culture has painted us a somewhat narrow picture of discipleship. When most of us think about discipleship, we imagine the weekly coffee shop cliché where we quietly discuss the Bible and swap prayer requests with ease. This style of discipleship will probably never be attainable for me or my husband.

The Bible provides us with more than one method when it comes to discipleship. The disciples of the Bible learned from Jesus while they worked and ate meals together (Luke 5:27–32), as they traveled together (John 7:1–13), as they celebrated holidays together (Matthew 26:17–30), and more. We are not limited to the peaceful coffee shop Bible study but are free to make use of our everyday routines to build up the church body. When we understood discipleship is a way of living rather than a specific event or meeting, making disciples seemed much more attainable despite our situation. For our family, “life on life” discipleship now included medical appointments, wheelchair fittings, and IEPs. In fact, bringing other people into this unique world of ours has become our primary discipleship methodology. When others enter our most vulnerable spaces, they aren’t just spending time with us but get to witness struggles they never considered before and are brought into contact with people they never would have met otherwise.

For example; several church members have sheepishly admitted to me that they once felt uncomfortable around those with intellectual disabilities, but spending time with Katherine has reduced their unease. Confessions like these showcase the fruit of our discipleship efforts. These friends were once afraid to love freely and engage an unreached and isolated people group, and now they are able to simply because I had them tag along for a few appointments. As our community lives alongside our family, they are being equipped to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with everyone. If we had refused others access to our unique experiences, we would have denied them an opportunity to grow as disciples.

Making adjustments for the mission

Even with this new perspective, discipleship as a special needs parent still requires some practical adjustments. Participation in our church’s missional communities was a challenge. Our daughter can’t walk, and most MC leaders don’t have homes that are easily accessible for her. It was tempting just not to participate at all, but we decided to host our missional community at our apartment instead. This is somewhat unique for families like ours, who tend to sequester themselves into their houses with limited community contact. If someone had asked me five years ago if I would have a dozen people over for dinner and fellowship once a week, I would have laughed at them. God used our unique challenges as parents to push my husband and me out of out comfort zone, and now sharing our home is typical for us.

Teaching our daughter

It’s a challenging reality that our daughter may never be able to read the Bible or understand exactly what Jesus Christ did for mankind. My husband and I are supposed to teach her the Gospel as well, but she may be the toughest one to teach! While there are many unknowns when it comes to her discipleship, I do know this; Katherine is beloved by our church family and is constantly surrounded by disciples who are trying to make more disciples. By merely opening our lives up to our brothers and sisters, our disabled kindergartener has seen discipleship and community more clearly than many adults have. That communicates something powerful to a little girl with limited understanding—that community living and discipleship is God’s desire for those who love Him.

Pop Culture Catechism, (Part 1)

Recently, I have been having conversations with one of my children about the differences between fiction and reality. This has led to poignant conversations about themes from a cartoon called Max Steel. Our conversations have spanned topics such as fostering/adoption, morality, and Jesus. I've used some of the direction in our conversations from the following article. As we head into the Christmas season, our kids will most likely be bombarded with Christmas-themed stories. Take a moment to read Derek Heibert's article below and don't let an easy opportunity to shape your children's thinking pass you by.

Patrick

Your kids need to see how the story of Jesus’s redemption is distinct, unique, better, and greater.

Taking stories from popular culture—especially movies—and relating them to the story of the gospel is one of the best forms of catechism. (By catechism, I mean that process of training a young person in the biblical story and core truths of the gospel.) Here is why pop culture stories are helpful in this process:

First, the entertainment industry is delivering stories to us by the truckloads. Unless you live in an Amish community, chances are your children and those in your church are engaging these stories on film at least on a weekly basis, or they are hearing about them from their peers. As parents, we should be intentional about how we use these pop-culture stories to train our kids in the Christian faith.

Second, we might as well enjoy the fact that we have such a thing as stories and appreciate them as the natural outgrowth of humanity and culture. The human ability to create stories is one of the benefits of being created in the image of the storyteller God, who invented the whole idea of story. Every human being, young and old, naturally loves stories. In light of this, we should not dismiss or escape them but engage them well for the sake of discipleship.

Third, stories from pop culture are always exploring important questions and ideas. Most good stories, whether a movie, TV show, or book, are created not merely for entertainment but for teaching. They are telling their story to say something meaningful and significant about life, about the world. Much like Jesus’s parables, the authors of these stories have an agenda: They are telling their stories in such a way to ask thought-provoking questions and offer ideas to those questions. In light of this, it is important to become skillful in understanding how stories work, what to look for in their question-asking and ideas, and how to compare and contrast them best with the biblical story.

Here is a three-step method I seek to practice in our household:

Step 1: Before the Movie

First, ensure you know the essential storyline of the Bible: Creation—Fall—Redemption—New Creation. This storyline is found more or less in every story common to humanity. Others may use different words, but the core movement of this plot is the foundation of every story.

Creation (beginning): God creates a perfect humanity and world to be in close relationship with him.

Fall (problem/conflict): Humans do not trust God’s goodness and love. As a result, they rebel and set into motion a death-curse of decay and brokenness that affects every human and all of creation. Death, not good and perfect everlasting life, is now the reality.

Redemption (solution): God in Christ comes to redeem and forgive, reversing the curse and recreating a new humanity. As the hero, he achieves this victory at great cost to Himself and by the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. Those who believe this story are brought into this new life and future.

New Creation (“happily ever after”): God recreates the entire universe into a “new heavens and new earth” that can never die. He and his new humanity are united forever in perfect relationship.

Prepare your kids for the conversation before the movie starts. Let your kids know you’d like to have a short conversation with them after the movie. Encourage them to look for, if possible, these main parts of the story:

Creation: The beginning of the story. What does life look like in terms of the characters’ family and community? What does the story say, if anything, about the origins of life?

Fall: What the main problem is in the story. With what do the characters come into conflict?

Redemption: The hero’s solution to the main problem in the story. Who is the main hero, and how does he or she solve the problem?

New Creation: What everyone experiences now because of the hero’s solution. What is the “happily-ever-after” ending of the story? (“Happily-ever-after” may be more useful language to use with children, depending on their ages.)

 

Step 2: During the Movie

As you watch the story unfold in the movie, be on the lookout for the Creation—Fall—Redemption—New Creation themes played out through the main character—who typically is the hero—and the situations in which he or she finds himself or herself. The most important themes in every story are the main problem, the hero, and their solution to the problem. No good story exists without a clear picture of these themes. Then think through how this compares and contrasts to God’s storyline in the Bible.

Step 3: After the Movie

Ask your kids what they thought was the Creation—Fall—Redemption—New Creation themes in the story. Then do step two with them, helping them connect the biblical storyline with specific details of the movie storyline. Help them to contrast the story of the movie with the Story of God, pinpointing the difference between Jesus as our true Hero with His solution to our problem of sin, and the hero and solution offered in the movie’s story.

Comparing and contrasting the Hero Jesus with the hero of the movie’s story is the most powerful part of this process. Your kids need to see how distinct, unique, better, and greater the story of Jesus’s redemption is compared to pop cultural stories. When lining up any story with the true Story of the Bible culminating in our redemption, that story is ultimately shown to pale in comparison because it fails to solve the most universal problem of humanity and the whole world: sin and its brokenness. Furthermore, most stories will tell of a hero who saves the day through personal strength, ingenuity, or some kind of magic. The biblical story, however, is unique and compelling because it offers us an upside-down example of a hero, one that is so counter-intuitive to what we usually imagine in this world: a hero who wins through weakness, self-giving love, suffering, and ultimately death. The Hero Jesus then achieves total victory over sin and death through His resurrection by the power of God.

In part two of this series, I will provide an example of how to do this engaging a recent family movie.