Archive - December, 2013

A Strange Question

It is not an unusual question. Most of us have probably heard it as a means of examining our hearts toward God: Do you love the gift, or the Giver?

But I think it is a strange question. It assumes that the two are mutually exclusive. However, in my mind and heart, they are tied together. Let me explain. (more…)

Free Christmas Lesson

12-13 Blog Post 300During the month of December, it is easy to get pulled in a million different directions…school programs, shopping, parties, decorating the tree, traveling, visiting family, wrapping gifts, building snowmen…but it can be difficult to find time to focus on the true reason for Christmas.

Our challenge for your family is to set aside an hour in the next two weeks to learn about the miraculous event of Jesus the Savior being born. In most Christmas stories, the focus is always on the tiny baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. Children relate well to that vision of God as a small, touchable and knowable baby Jesus. But, it is not the end of God’s revelation of His Son. Baby Jesus will grow up into a Man, the perfect Son of God, and His obedience will lead Him to a most painful, undeserved death on the cross.

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.—Matthew 1:21

To help you and you family focus on the bigger picture of Christmas, Children Desiring God is giving you a free copy of “Jesus the Savior is Born” which is a lesson in our revised version of Jesus, What a Savior. This lesson focuses on three main ideas:

  • God loves His people and desires to save them from their sin.
  • God was faithful to send Jesus as the promised Savior.
  • God reveals His greatness to humble people.

The free lesson can be downloaded as a PDF here: Jesus the Savior is Born. We pray it will be a blessing as you and your family celebrate our Savior this Christmas.

This free lesson includes the Lesson Material, Lesson Visuals, Student Workbook, Optional Activities and Growing in Faith Together pages. You may print out or make copies of this lesson for use in you home, church or school. Enjoy!

 

 

A Genuine Parent and Youth Ministry Partnership

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In his article, “Can Youth Ministers Actually Work with Parents?” (posted at The Gospel Coalition), Pastor John Pond challenges the church with the following:

For years I always told the pastor, parent, or anyone else who asked that of course I am partnering with parents. We never want to be that youth ministry that does not work alongside parents,[since] they are the primary disciple makers. However, a few years ago I realized that when it comes to working out this priority I was just giving lip service. Talking to other youth ministers I realized I was not the only one. How do the youth minister and parent practically work together to see that discipleship is actually happening in our teenagers’ lives, as opposed to working in isolation and only pretending that we are working together?

He then highlights and discusses four elements that must be present for a genuine partnership to exist:

  • Communicate regularly
  • Pray together
  • Spend time with parents
  • Create pro-family calendars

And he concludes with this important reminder:

The youth minister and parent are each other’s best allies when they work together. If we want our students to persevere with faith after high school, having joy in Christ and not in sin, parents and youth ministers have to support and encourage each other. Discipleship starts to go deep in the teenage years, and the whole church must cooperate. What’s at stake? Only the future family of the church.

You can read the whole article “Can Youth Ministers Actually Work with Parents?
here.”

Encouraging Contentment at Christmas Time

This grandma almost “lost it” the other day. I was shopping with my daughter and grandchildren at IKEA. As I walked down the aisles with 2-year-old, David he kept repeating over and over and over again, “Cars and trucks. Cars and trucks…” It was his way of reminding me that he wanted grandma to find him and buy him a new car or truck (preferably both!). You see, it was not enough that he already had about a zillion cars and trucks at home—he wanted more. But grandma didn’t buy him another car or truck, and somehow he survived the day.

Every day is a challenge to teach our children (and ourselves) biblical contentment:

“…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”
(Philippians 4:11)

“But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” (1 Timothy 6:8)

“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.'” (Hebrews 13:5)

Christmas time presents even greater challenges for being content with what we have as we are bombarded with catalogs, billboards, commercials, and all manner of slick advertisements that entice us with the message: You need this in order to be happy. Therefore, as we move into this season, it might be a good time to give our children a refresher course on contentment by reminding them of these foundational truths:

    • Our possessions are from God, belong to God, and are under God’s authority.

“I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself,” (Isaiah 44:24b)

“…Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.” (Job 41:11b)

“Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all.” (1 Chronicles 29:12)

    • God knows all of our needs and graciously provides for our needs.

“…for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:8)

“…he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” (Acts 17:25)

    • God is good to all and will not withhold any good thing from His children.

“The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.” (Psalm 145:9)

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11)

    • Possessions are temporary and cannot truly satisfy us.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,” (Matthew 6:19)

“He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 5:10)

    • The desire for possessions may become a dangerous snare.

“…’Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.'” (Luke 12:15)

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Timothy 6:10)

    • True contentment comes from knowing, loving, and trusting Jesus.

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…” (Philippians 3:8)

The following are a few practical discussion ideas for applying these truths to the heart:

  • Read 1 Timothy 6:6-8. Did you bring anything into the world? Can you take anything with you when you die? What does verse 8 say that we should be content with? Why is this hard for us? If you lived in a very poor country where many people were starving, would it be easier to be content with having food? Why? How can you have this same attitude without having to be in that situation?
  • Do you often compare what you have with what others have? Why? Do you feel that you need what they have in order to be happy? Why? If and when you feel this way, what are you saying about what you think will make you truly happy? Is this what God tells us will make us happy? Is God your heavenly Father? Do you trust Him to provide for you all that you need in order to be happy? Read Matthew 7:7-11. What kinds of things do you ask God for? Why do you ask for these things? Do you believe that God wants to give you good gifts? Do you complain about the good things that God has already given you? Why is it sometimes hard to be thankful? Is it because God is stingy? Or is it because our hearts are not grateful? How could you focus on thankfulness to God this week?
  • Make a “Thank you” list to God for His many good gifts. What should a list like this remind us of? When feelings of wanting more and more “stuff” start to creep into your heart, do you stop to think about how generous God has already been to you? Do you thank Him for life and breath and everything else? How could stopping and remembering this help you to fight against feeling discontent with what you have?
  • Is God able to satisfy your every need? Therefore, if He withholds something from you, like having your own bedroom or a new iPad, is it because He isn’t able to provide you with those things? Why might God choose to withhold something from you? What better thing might God have for you? Give a concrete example of this.
  • Read Philippians 4:12-13. What is the “secret” of being content? Why does Paul say that it is a secret? Are secrets easy things to find out? No, they are to be “found out” by actively searching for them. Can you be content through your own strength? Why not? Whose strength must you depend on?
  • What is the hardest struggle you have when you think of earthly treasures? What kinds of things “feed” this feeling? What do commercials, movies, books, and store advertisements tell you is worth “laying up”? How can you protect yourself from this in some measure? Do you do this, or do you continue to feed your appetite for earthly treasures?
  • Have you ever received something that you were really happy and excited about? Did you feel as excited about it a week later? A month later? Two years later? Why not? What does this tell you about earthly treasures and the happiness they bring? Will this happen to heavenly treasures? Why not?

(Discussion ideas adapted from the CDG curriculum To Be Like Jesus: A Study for Children on Following Jesus.)

(Photo courtesy of blackstock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

The Story of Christmas—From the Beginning

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The following is very good reminder from Dr. Albert Mohler as we make preparations to share the Christmas story in our classrooms and homes:

So, where does the Christmas story begin? In the Gospel of John we read: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” [John 1:1-3]

The prologue to John’s Gospel points to creation and to Christ, the divine Logos, as the agent of creation. Yet, with language drawn directly from Genesis, John begins his gospel “in the beginning.”

In other words, the Christmas story begins before the creation of the world. As we celebrate Christmas and contemplate the Christmas story, we must be very careful not to begin the story in Bethlehem, or even in Nazareth, where Mary was confronted by Gabriel with the message that she would be the mother of the Messiah.

We must not even begin with Moses and the prophets, and with the expectation of the coming Son of Man, the promised Suffering Servant, and the heralded Davidic Messiah. We must begin before the world was created and before humanity was formed, much less fallen.

Why is this so important? Put simply, if we get the Christmas story wrong, we get the Gospel wrong. Told carelessly, the Christmas story sounds like God’s “Plan B.” In other words, we can make the Christmas story sound like God turning to a new plan, rather than fulfilling all that he had promised. We must be very careful to tell the Christmas story in such a way that we make the gospel clear.

Excerpt from Dr. Mohler’s article, “Where Does the Story of Christmas Begin?.”

All New Visuals for Jesus, What a Savior! + Giveaway

 

Last month, Children Desiring God released the revised version of Jesus, What a Savior! This 40-week curriculum teaches kindergarten students about redemption. One of the main elements of our curriculum revision is a complete redesign of the Visuals Packet. Teachers use the visuals in this resource during the lesson to capture students’ attention, visualize Bible stories, and emphasize key points of the lesson.

The vibrant, full-color visuals include a variety of original Bible story images, photographs and illustrations. The Visuals Packet is available either as a pre-printed resource or as a printable PDF file on the Resources DVD in the Teacher’s Kit. To learn more about the revised version of Jesus, What a Savior!, view a sample of the lessons.

 

Jesus, What a Savior! Giveaway

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To celebrate the release of Jesus, What a Savior!, we are giving away a free Teacher’s Kit and 5 Students Workbooks! Be sure to enter our contest by the end of December!

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Please note: This is a continuation of the giveaway started on December 2. Don’t worry, if you entered this giveaway on our previous blog post, your entries are already included.

 

When a Little Girl Prays to a Big God

How many times do we as parents miss out on recognizing God at work in the most ordinary everyday circumstances? How many times do we fail to call upon Jesus in prayer thinking that the problem isn’t “big enough” to warrant His attention? Here is a true story of how a little girl’s simple faith in a big God taught her daddy a big lesson.

Does God care about a doll coat?  Yes, He does.  God cares about doll coats and He cares about the faith of little girls.  

Driving down the highway coming home from summer vacation, a little girl was playing with her doll and doll clothes in the back seat. She hung up her doll coat on the wing window of the station wagon and noticed a few minutes later that it was gone.

“My doll coat!  It’s gone!”  she exclaimed.  After looking around the back seat and realizing that the coat had probably gone out the window, she asked her daddy to turn around and go back for the coat.

Her daddy patiently tried to explain that he was driving 65 miles an hour down a divided highway, it would be some distance before he could cross the highway, and dusk was approaching.  But the little girl was insistent.

“But it’s my favorite doll coat,” she sobbed.  But there was no way that the doll coat could be found.  They had traveled many miles since the coat was noticed to be missing and there was no way of knowing where the coat had gone out the window.  Finally her parents convinced her that it was useless to go back for the doll coat.

After a few moments of silence, the little girl said quietly, “Would it help to pray?”

Skeptical that her prayer would be answered as she desired, yet not desiring to squash his daughter’s zeal for prayer and dependency on God, Dad answered, “It always helps to pray.”

The little girl prayed simply and sincerely that God would bring back her doll coat.

A few minutes later, Dad slammed on the brakes.  “Kristi, God just answered your prayer!” he exclaimed.  He jumped out of the car and ran to the back.  There caught on the very end of the trailer they were pulling was…the doll coat! 

Dad gleefully and gratefully restored the doll coat to his daughter and the family drove on, awed by a great and glorious God who notices little things like doll coats and loves to encourage the faith of His children.

(Lord, Teach Us to Pray: Family Devotional Guide  by Sally Michael, copyright©2006, pages 141-142.)

Theological Highlight: The Incarnation

It’s often said that Christmas is a “magical” time for children. But a more accurate description should be that Christmas is a “miraculous” time as we ponder the miracle of the incarnation. So as we think and plan toward how we will teach about and celebrate Christmas with the children in our church and home, let us consider the importance of the doctrine of the incarnation. Consider these words from Jared Wilson from his article “The Christmas Miracle of the Incarnation of the Omnipresent Word.”

Every year at this time as we celebrate the birth of baby Jesus to the virgin Mary, I don’t suppose it occurs to too many merrymakers that what they’re really celebrating is the Incarnation. All of the other miracles are in service of that central miracle: God became man. And in becoming, through Spiritual conception, the man Jesus of Nazareth, the Word of God did not cease to be God. Baby Jesus, from the moment of conception to the straw habitation of the manger, was fully God and fully man. That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

When we put our minds long to the idea of Jesus being one hundred percent God and simultaneously one hundred percent man, they naturally feel overwhelmed. The orthodox doctrine of the Incarnation is compelling, beautiful, biblically sensible, and salvifically necessary, but it is nevertheless utterly inscrutable. And that’s okay. In the end, the Incarnation is not for analysis but for worship.

As Jared Wilson states, the doctrine of the incarnation is “… utterly inscrutable”—beyond full comprehension for adults and children alike. However, we can and must present children with these clear succinct truths:

  • Jesus was fully God.
  • Jesus became fully man.
  • Jesus is both fully God and fully man, forever.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

(John 1:1, 14 ESV)

Example of comments and questions to help younger elementary aged children to understand the above verses:

  • Do you know what a nickname is? Sometimes people, especially our parents and friends, might call us by a different name like “squirt,” “honey,” “dear,” etc. ”The Word” is another name for Jesus. Even as a tiny baby, Jesus was God. All the words that are true of God are true of Jesus, too.
  •  Discuss the characteristics of babies: they have soft skin, no teeth, sleep a lot, do not walk or talk, etc. Jesus had those same characteristics as a baby because He was born as a real human person like us.
  • God sent baby Jesus to His people to do the biggest job of all—to save sinful people. It doesn’t seem like a tiny baby could do such a big job. But the Bible tells us that Jesus is really God. Is any job too hard for God? No! So, is any job too hard for Jesus? No!
  • When you think about Jesus being a tiny baby in a manger, is it easy or hard for you to believe that Jesus is fully God? What makes it hard for people to believe that He is God? What kinds of things show what God is like? What kinds of things show what babies are like? But what does the Bible say? (Recall John 1:1 and 1). The Bible, God’s true Word, says that Jesus is God. Pray that God would help you to trust that what His Word says is true—that Jesus is God.
  •  Since Jesus is God, how should you act toward Jesus? What did Simeon do? What did the shepherds do? What did the wise men do? What do you do? Spend some time together thinking

about ways you can love, trust, and praise Jesus.

(Adapted from Jesus, What a Savior: A Study for Children on Redemption.

A New Resource for Advent

Here is a wonderful and creative new resource to help you and your family reflect on the true meaning of both Christmas and EasterMessiah Vine: A celebration of Advent and Lent (by Kathi Lambrides Westlund and family).

messiahvineTHE MESSIAH VINE was designed to help you celebrate both the birth and the resurrection of Christ. Advent and Lent are often treated as completely separate seasons. But they aren’t separate events—they are one beautiful, connected story! Kathi Lambrides Westlund actually wrote The Messiah Vine for her own family out of her frustration that most Advent resources leave Jesus in the manger at Christmas, and the realization that there are few resources available that mark Easter in a way that is cohesive with the whole scope of the Bible.

Jesus was not only the Baby of Bethlehem—He is also the Creator of the universe, the Savior of the world, and the Lord of eternity!

The Messiah Vine will help you weave both seasons together. As you progress through the Advent and Lenten seasons, you will focus on some of the main events in God’s work of redemption. You might think of the Messiah Vine as a timeline that depicts God’s plan from before creation into eternity. During the Advent season, The Messiah Vine devotional will guide you from creation to Jesus’ boyhood. During the Lenten season, the focus is on the “I am” statements of Christ and Holy Week events.

The Messiah Vine includes 39 unique ornaments, all of which are hand-made by Kathi and her family. They are carefully crafted out of a variety of media: clay, wood, fabric, paper, twigs, and twine.

We highly recommend this resource! For more information and to purchase it, go here.

GIVEAWAY: Jesus, What a Savior!

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Children Desiring God is excited to announce our biggest giveaway of the year to celebrate the release of the revised Jesus, What a Savior! curriculum. You have a chance to win a free Teacher’s Kit and 5 Student Workbooks.

Jesus, What a Savior is a 40 week Sunday School curriculum written to teach kindergarten students about redemption. Take a look at the curriculum sample or learn more about it here.

Be sure to enter to win by the end of December using the tool below.
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