Here is a helpful message from John Piper, “Make This Christmas Special.” In it, he gives some very practical advice for parents about how to focus on what is most important at Christmas.
Childhood memories leave a lasting impression on our lives. In walking down memory lane, here are some of my own childhood memories regarding Christmas (in no particular order):
- a Christmas tree in the living room
- special decorations, lights, and candles
- singing Christmas carols
- a Nativity set in which baby Jesus was placed in the center
- family gatherings
- yummy meals and treats
- sitting by the fireplace with hot cocoa
- the Christmas Eve service at church
- celebrating the birth of Jesus
All beautiful and wonderful memories to instill in a child. But there is something very important missing from this list…something not impressed upon me as a child. Something we all need in our Christmas. What could this possibly be? Consider the following thoughts:
There is lurking behind every beautiful scene on every Christmas card, every lovely sentiment of Christmas, somewhere behind all of that is something very vile and very ugly. The most wretched, heinous, hideous reality in all of the universe. And I really believe that to have a proper understanding of the beauty of Christmas, you must have a proper understanding of the ugliness of Christmas….
The heart of Christmas is this: Christ came into the world to save sinners. Christ was manifest to take away sin. “You shall call his name Jesus for he shall save his people from their sin.” And the real beauty of Christmas is to understand the ugliness that it cures…
Sin disturbs and disrupts every human relationship, whether between man and man, man and creation, or man and God. Thomas Watson, the great Puritan writer, said, “Sin has turned beauty into deformity and the wicked takes more care to have his sin covered than cured.” Men are much more prone to excuse their sin than they are to examine it. And so it’s fitting that at this time of the year when men would cover their sin with all the beauty of Christmas that the covering be torn off, if but for a brief moment, to reveal the ugliness that is behind it all.
You see, the reason that Christ was born was to be the savior who came to deliver men from sin. If there were no sin, there would need to be no Christmas. So we cannot divorce the two and we cannot hide behind the fantasy. We cannot hide behind the smokescreen of Christmas cards and all the rest. Sin must come to the forefront.
(Excerpt from a sermon by John MacArthur, The Ugliness of Christmas, www.gty.org)
So, as we consider making memories this Christmas that will leave a lasting and life-changing impression upon our children, let’s remember to carefully teach our children the real reason why Christmas is so beautiful.
(Image courtesy of Feelart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)
Here is a simple exercise to do with your older children and students this week: Ask them: “What’s the truth?” Write down their answers. Next, read Steven Lawson’s great post at Ligonier Ministries titled, “The Moment of Truth: Its Reality” in which he notes and defines eight characteristics of truth. After doing this, go back and discuss your children’s answers in light of his article. Here is a summary of his eight points:
Truth Is Divine
God is the author of all truth because God is the truth. All things are measured by God Himself—by Himself—to determine what is in conformity with truth and what is non-truth. God is the final judge of all truth.
Truth Is Absolute
Truth is sovereign. Truth reigns over all. Truth is the definitive standard by which everything is measured.
Truth Is Objective
Truth is conveyed in clearly defined words—and words that have a definite meaning. Truth is black and white. Truth is narrowly defined by God’s Word…Truth is fact; it is not feeling…Truth is found in specific words with specific meaning in the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of the living God.
Truth Is Singular
…What God says to one generation is true for every generation. The Bible speaks with one voice. It sets forth one plan of salvation, makes one diagnosis of the problem of the human condition, presents one history of redemption, and offers one Savior.
Truth Is Immutable
Truth never changes. What was true in the Garden of Eden is true throughout the Old Testament, is true in the times of Christ, is true in the expansion of the church, is true down through the centuries, and it is true today because God never changes.
Truth Is Authoritative
Truth has the right to make demands upon our lives because it is the truth of God. Truth possesses the right to rule our lives.
Truth Is Powerful
Truth alone convicts…Truth saves…Truth sanctifies. It conforms us into the image of Christ. Truth encourages. Truth comforts.
Truth Is Determinative
Your eternal destiny is determined by the truth.
(Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)
I have a confession to make: For the past two decades I have tampered with the words of a beloved Christmas carol. Well, to be honest, I’ve only changed two words, but those two words are significant in my mind and drive home a huge theological truth.
The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,
But And little Lord Jesus, no such crying He makes…
Baby Jesus crying just like any other baby who is startled by a load noise. Not a sinful type of cry that comes from frustration or anger, but simply a human baby communicating. Amazing truth:
Baby Jesus, fully God…“in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,” (Colossians 1:19)
Baby Jesus, fully human…just like us.
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death…Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:14, 17-18 ESV)
Because Jesus is fully God, it seems right to think of Him as a “perfect” baby—one who never even cried. But as Hebrews makes clear, Jesus took on full humanity. He was born and became like us. Jesus cried as a baby. He grew hungry and sleepy. He needed His diapers changed. In Jesus, God did not come to earth as some intangible spirit, but a real flesh and blood man. That was God’s plan. Jesus can sympathize with our weaknesses because He has worn frail flesh. “And little Lord Jesus, such crying He makes.” But more importantly, His humanity gave Him the means to die and destroy the one who has the power of death so that in Him what might have eternal life.
So this Christmas, when you sing this beloved Christmas carol with your children use it as a teaching moment. You don’t necessarily need to take my radical approach and change the words, but make sure that your children know and understand the true and crucial meaning of the incarnation.
Baby Jesus, fully God.
Baby Jesus, fully man.
(Image courtesy of Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)
Remember, our Christmas Sale ends at midnight on Sunday, December 14. So, there are only four more days to send in your order.
Here, again, are the special discounted offers:
Jesus is Most Special—This new Christmas-themed book from Sally Michael is available in quantities of 3 for $20.
Making HIM Known Series, Set of 5—There are five books in this series now: God’s Battle, God’s Names, God’s Promises, God’s Providence, and God’s Wisdom. We’re offering a set of all five books for $45.
Making Him Known Series, Set of 2—If you took advantage of our Christmas sale last year and bought the first three books in this series, you might be interested in the two newest books: God’s Battle and God’s Wisdom. We’re offering a set of these two books for $20. Learn more.
Parenting Booklet Set—These special resources for parents includes one of each of the following booklets:
Pronouncing blessings upon our children is a powerful way to plead for God’s grace upon them and to give them a vision for what we hope they will become. Includes 12 double-sided blessing cards.
Topics in this booklet include: preparing the hearts of children to hear the Gospel; discerning stages of spiritual growth; communicating the essential truths of the Gospel message; and presenting the Gospel in an accurate and child-friendly manner. Also include 10 family devotionals.
This booklet will challenge you to look on your mothering with a biblical perspective, to seize the opportunities God gives you each day to encourage faith in you children, and to rely on Him as your Sin-bearer and Enabler to do the great work He has called you to do.
Click here to place your order. Remember, these special are only available until midnight on Sunday, December 14!
As we minister in our classrooms this Christmas season, it is important that we recognize that not all children may be merry. Some have experienced terrible loss that will be felt by the whole family—maybe the recent death of a beloved grandparent. Others will feel the turmoil and stress of a broken home or fighting parents. Maybe daddy has lost his job and money is tight. A few might be fearful and lonely because daddy is a soldier, fighting a war far, far away—he won’t be home for Christmas. Whatever the source of their sadness, here is a good reminder from Dr. Albert Mohler:
Is Christmas also for those who grieve? Such a question would perplex those who experienced the events that night in humble Bethlehem and those who followed Christ throughout his earthly ministry. Christmas is especially for those who grieve.
…The baby Jesus was born into a world of grief, suffering, and loss. The meaning of his incarnation was recognized by the aged Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, who prophesied that God had acted to save his people, “because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79).
…The great truth of Christmas is that the Father so loves the world that he sent his own Son to assume human flesh and to dwell among us, to die for our sins and to suffer for our iniquity, and to declare that the kingdom of God is at hand. This same Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day, conquering death and sin. There is salvation, full pardon from sin, and life everlasting to those who believe and trust in him.
…Christians bear a particular responsibility to surround fellow believers with this confidence, and to minister Christmas joy and love to those bearing griefs. We stand together in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, declaring with the Apostle Paul that nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God. We bind one another’s hearts, respect one another’s tears, and remind one another of the blessed hope. For, it was Christ himself who promised that our “sorrow will turn into joy” (John 16:20).
This does not mean that we must strike a somber note in the classroom by removing or minimizing celebratory elements or activities. But it should cause us to think about how we might acknowledge the realities of suffering, sorrow, fear, loneliness, etc. even while many other people are merry and happy. (No doubt, Mary and Joseph weren’t all “jolly” on the road to Bethlehem, nor their flight to Egypt!) But in that acknowledgment, we must also gently point children to the life-giving, hope-filled, joy-producing message of the Gospel. Furthermore, consider practical ways to reach out to a child who is experiencing grief: Talk to the parents and ask them, “How could we encourage your child this Christmas?”; send a special note or give the child a phone call; give a gift to the family (e.g., provide the child with a special opportunity to participate in a lesson, etc.). Whatever you choose to do, make sure to acknowledge the grief, extend compassion, and point to our only hope, Jesus, in whom there is everlasting joy!
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
(Image courtesy of Artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)
These days it has become very commonplace to describe the Bible as a “story.” God’s own story. One great interconnected story from beginning to end. An absolutely true story. The story of how God sent His Son into the world to rescue sinners like us. The Gospel story. The most important story ever told…All these statements are true. So yes, let’s be diligent to teach children the story of the Bible. But let’s also be very intentional to teach our children that…
The Bible is much more than a story—it is God’s authoritative Word.
Why is this distinction important? Here are a few reasons:
- The Bible describes itself in terms that go beyond its story-like nature. For example:
Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens. (Psalm 119:89 ESV)
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, (2 Timothy 3:16 ESV)
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 ESV)
You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently. (Psalm 119:4 ESV)
- Children will encounter thousands of stories in their lifetime. To simply describe the Bible as a story (albeit the most important story) does not give the Bible the respect and diligence due God’s holy Word. The Bible must “stand apart” in our minds and hearts, not only as a unique story, but also as the authoritative Word of the Living God. There are many stories, but there is no other authoritative Word of God.
- Recognizing the Bible as God’s authoritative Word makes a proper response to it more imperative. Good stories tend to draw children in by appealing to their emotions and feelings. The story of the Bible—especially the Gospel—serves to do this, too. But the power of the Word goes beyond appealing to our emotions. For example, the Bible does not simply ask, “Do you love Jesus? Would you like to follow Him?” Rather, it communicates an authoritative life and death command from our sovereign Creator to “Repent and believe the Gospel.”
- The true, authoritative Word of God declares the unchanging character of God, His wisdom and commands to help us live fulfilling and victorious lives, and the reality of man’s feelings poured out to God in the Psalms as man struggles to trust God. Though these truths can be seen in the stories of the Bible, they are somewhat opaque and left to our discerning. But set in the declarative statements of the Word, they are clear, sure, convicting, and powerful.
From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is a beautiful, seamless, grand story. But it is also much more than a story. It is the authoritative Word of God—absolute, objective, universal, and unchanging truth. So, as parents and teachers, let’s be careful to give our children the weight of the Word of God as God’s clear declaration of His character, His dealings with man, His work in the world and faithfulness to His people, His expectations of man, and His sure promises.
(Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)
The Christian life is no Disney adventure. It’s a dangerous journey to the Celestial City and we spend much of it fighting for faith and for the faith. Our children need to learn early on what the battle is all about, what it’s like to fight, and how to survive. Sally Michael’s book is itself a weapon for the war, because it equips us to equip our children for the fight of their lives.—Jon Bloom, President, Desiring God
Sally Michael’s new full-color, illustrated book, God’s Battle uses the Gospel message to introduce children to the state of their hearts, and then awakens them to the many battlegrounds that surround us—both from our own sinful hearts and from the enemy’s attacks. She encourages children to be fighters, giving them a biblical battle strategy to depend on God, resist the enemy, and stand strong! Each chapter includes personal application and activities.
During our Christmas Sale this year, Children Desiring God is giving you the opportunity to order a complete set of all five books in the Making HIM Known Series by Sally Michael, including the latest, God’s Battle, for only $45. The Family Devotional Gift Set includes one copy each of God’s Battle, God’s Names, God’s Promises, God’s Providence, and God’s Wisdom.
Or, if you took advantage of our Christmas Sale last year and purchased three of these books already, you can opt to purchase only the two newest books, both released this year: God’s Wisdom and God’s Battle.
These books were written to read to or read with elementary-age children. Each book has 26 chapters, each about four pages long. Each chapter concludes with suggested application questions and family activities. These books are perfect for use during family devotions times. Here are the other four books in this series:
The Bible gives us many names for God and tells us what they mean. God’s Names was written to help parents introduce their children to the character of God as revealed by His names. It is meant to serve as a springboard to help children trust God in everyday life experiences.
God’s promises are precious and powerful gifts from an unchanging, wise, loving, sovereign Creator and Ruler of the Universe. God has given His children these precious promises to remind us of His goodness and to strengthen our faith when we are weak.
Children who can embrace God’s providence can rest in God’s sovereign care. This book uses simple truths to help parents explain God’s providence to their children and show them how God’s providence applies to all of life and creation…including themselves.
Every day our children are confronted with the call of wisdom and the call of foolishness. Which call will they answer? Through these teachings and stories from the Bible, Sally Michael describes for parents and children the characteristics of the foolish and the wise, contrasts for them the way of wisdom with the way of foolishness, and shows them the end result of each path.
Click here to place your order. Remember, this special gift set will only be available until midnight on Sunday, December 14!
In the heart of every Christian grandmother is the desire that her grandchildren know Jesus as their Savior. This was my heart desire seven years ago when I wrote the text to Jesus is Most Special. It didn’t start out as text for a children’s book about the birth of Christ. It was simply the expression of one grandmother’s heart that her granddaughter would know of God’s love in sending the Savior.
At the time, my elder daughter, Amy, and her husband, Gary, were living in St. John’s, Newfoundland with my eldest grandchild, Anna, who was then three years old. As I thought about the miles between us and pondered how I could nurture a spiritual interest and understanding in Anna’s heart, the Lord put it in my heart to tell Anna the Christmas story via the written word. I had no pictures to send her, so I suggested that Amy and Gary use a nativity set in telling the story. Continue Reading…
My 3-year-old grandson David was nestled close to me as I read from a children’s story book. As I read the story to him, I couldn’t help but break out laughing in places—it was a delightful story. Somewhere in the middle of the story, David interrupted and looked up at me with a big smile and said, “You’re happy, Gramma!” “Yes David, I’m happy.” “I’m happy, too.” Even though David wasn’t able to understand everything in the story, he did understand that the story made gramma happy. And that caught his attention.
That little incident made me think back several years ago to when I was teaching a lesson in first-grade Sunday school. I can’t remember the particular lesson (from The ABCs of God curriculum), but I remember very vividly what happened after the lesson. Our Pastor for Children had been observing me teach, and afterward he gently pointed out, “You didn’t seem very joyful in your teaching.” There I was, teaching children about the greatest joy and treasure in the universe—God Himself—and I was communicating this life-giving truth, without joy! I wonder if that caught the children’s attention?
You see, on that particular day, I had simply come prepared to “teach a lesson,” and it came across as dry and indifferent information. Yes, truth was taught, but my joyless demeanor made it seem like I was telling the children how to fill out a tax form. That isn’t to say that authentic teaching is always evidenced by a smiling face and laughter. Sometimes conveying the truth with genuine brokenness and humility is most appropriate. The main point is this: Before we teach, our hearts should first be gripped and shaped by the truths we are to communicate—truths such as…the splendor, majesty, and holiness of God; the desperate condition of sinful man; the amazing grace that God extends to sinners; the matchless worth of Jesus; the good news of the cross; etc.
Here is a wonderful and challenging thought for every teacher and parent to ponder:
Teachers and parents who do not exult over God in their teaching will not bring about exultation in God. Dry, unemotional, indifferent teaching about God—whether at home or at church—is a half-truth, at best. It says one thing about God and portrays another thing. It is inconsistent. It says that God is great, but teaches as if God is not great.
Psalm 145:4 shows us another way: “One generation shall praise Your works to another.” Let praises carry the truth to the next generation, because the aim of truth is praise. The aim of education is exultation. So let education model exultation in the way it is done.
(John Piper, Copyright ©2013 Desiring God Foundation, www.desiringGod.org)
(Image courtesy of Photostock at freedigitalphotos.net.)