Christmas

Three Gifts to Give Your Kids This Christmas

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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.

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.