Your Very Own Advent Plan

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Each day over the next 25 days (beginning December 1st), Kid Theology is going to celebrate the first Advent (or coming) of God incarnate, Immanuel (God with us), Jesus, whose name means the Lord saves! Would you like to celebrate Christmas all December-long with us?

If the answer is "Yes!", then you can receive straight to your email inbox an easy, effective, and intentional way to celebrate and highlight advent with your children every day in December leading up to Christmas day. Our goal is to set you up well by doing the work for you ahead of time. All that will be required of you is to sign up for a free daily email that will be in your inbox each morning, to open said email each day, and to spend a few minutes with your family bringing attention to Jesus' incarnation. This can be done in the morning, mid-day, at the dinner table, or before bed. Are you up for the challenge?

It's going to go something like this...

  • We will give you a verse of the day, that speaks to the reality of the incarnation and its implications. We will walk you through the story of how Jesus came to the earth to save sinners, beginning in Genesis, where we see the first hint of Christmas in chapter 3. 
  • We will then provide you with an explanation of the verse to give you context as well as to help you as you talk to your children about the particular verse.
  • Additionally, there will be one or two guiding questions for you to work through as a family. These questions will help you to come to your own conclusions about the wonder of the incarnation and how Christmas has specific implications for our lives. 
  • Finally (and probably most fun), we will be providing you with an Advent activity list with some super easy and fun-filled activities for you to do as a family this season. You will be able to refer to this list each day throughout Advent to determine which activities work best within your crazy-busy holiday schedules.

So are you in? If so click this link to sing up for the daily emails in December with your very own daily advent guide. It's as easy as that.

Also, have you had a chance to read up on the why behind Advent? We wrote a brief, but helpful explanation in a previous post. You can access that by clicking here.

Our hope at KT is that during this Christmas season, Jesus would rule and reign over your hearts and minds; that you would seek to make much of him in your homes; that you would remember the real reason for the season; that you would make it your main objective to emphasize the beauty of the incarnation (and what it means for all of us - salvation, redemption, rescue, forgiveness, adoption, future glory), rather than getting caught up in the entrapments of holiday consumerism.

The greatest gift you can give to your child this Advent season is Jesus. He is their only hope! He is your only hope!

Celebrate Christmas An Entire Month

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It is a rare occasion when I encounter a Christian who detests Christmas. Now, I realize that I must qualify this by stating many of us struggle with the over-commercialization of Christmas, and some of us even dread the holiday because we are in the midst of suffering and can't bear the thought of "celebrating" during intense heartache.

But if we break Christmas down to its simplest form, it really is epic: God becoming flesh to rescue the world! What's not to love about this!!!

As a bonus, a godless (or post-god, however you want to slice it) culture continues to persist in the accommodation of the celebration of Christ's birth. Most people are given the day off work. Many others take the opportunity to spend the holiday with the people they love the most. We eat good food. We drink good drink. We give good (or not-so-good) gifts (I see you tiny pocket knife, weird socks, stinky candles, or horrible white elephant gift). Other than those terribly awkward conversations with family you only see once a year, we can all agree that Christmas is pretty much one of the best things in our earthly lives.

In the end, a good chunk of the world still celebrates the holiday, if even for all the wrong reasons. But here's some truth for your ears: We can remove Christ from Christmas (i.e. by calling it X-mas), but we will literally never be able to remove "Christ" from Christmas.

For Christians, this is the best news ever! This is also the reason why we should celebrate HARDER and LONGER than all of the non-Christians across the world who don't know, love, and worship Jesus. 

And you'll never be able to guess what Christians have done for the past two millenniums?

We have concocted a way by which we can celebrate Christmas for the entire month leading up to Christmas day. It is called Advent (which I will explain more below). The reality is that Christmas provides a massive opportunity for us to celebrate in our homes, with our families, giving credence to the reality of arguably the single greatest event ever (without Christmas there is no cross and empty tomb).

It also affords us the opportunity to celebrate with our church communities and with the lost and dying world around us, with the ultimate goal of pointing, proclaiming, and presenting to everyone what John the Baptist upon his first glance of Jesus exclaimed: "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" John 1:29

The word adventus is a Latin term meaning “coming/arrival.” Early Christians spoke of “The advent of our Lord” in  reference to the incarnation (God becoming flesh). As time went on, Advent was designated as the period leading up to Christmas Day when Christians prepared for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. The specific celebrations began as early as the 4th century AD. This time period was marked by prayer and fasting with a focused attention on the wonder of the incarnation as well as the hopeful return of Christ at His second coming.

So why should we celebrate Advent? Because it pushes us to focus on the real reason for the Christmas season. When we celebrate Christ’s first coming, we are reminded of what it took for mankind to be rescued from sin, death, and hell. It required God to take on flesh in order to become a sacrifice for the sins of the world. To celebrate advent is to celebrate the hope of redemption; the hope that first came in the form of a baby – a baby who would forever change the world. His name is Jesus!

We are serious about Advent at Kid Theology and view this season as another incredible opportunity to point ourselves, our children, and all those around us to Jesus. There are many ways in which you can do this.

We will hopefully be throwing out some helpful and simple tools for you to celebrate Advent in the coming days (Advent technically begins this year on December 3rd).  

(side note: This will only apply to those who are signed up on our mailing list. to receive free advent content (as well as other tools to help you disciple your children, sign up here).

Thanksgiving: More Than A Holiday, A Way Of Life

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Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” Psalm 107:1

Halloween is officially behind us which means one thing… It’s Christmas time! I am not joking when I say that literally on Halloween day, major retail stores had already stashed away their ghosts and goblins in favor of fake spruce trees, Santa Claus displays, and green and red decor everywhere. That’s right! The halls had been decked on October 31st. Full disclosure here but when I saw the Christmas displays, I was excited as Elf was when he heard the Santa announcement.

 

But what about Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving gets a bad wrap for sure when it comes to the three holidays. Americans make a big deal out of it, but only for two or three days. Let’s be honest with each other, nobody ever gets too sad about a day set aside for overeating and hanging out with family and friends.

The thing about Thanksgiving is that it just doesn’t scratch as big of a consumeristic itch as Christmas or Halloween (the number one and two highest grossing American holidays respectively).  But, because it is sandwiched between Halloween and Christmas, it tends to get overlooked. Undoubtedly we still try to make Thanksgiving as self-focused as possible, which is why it is marked more by gluttony than anything else. The very title of the holiday “Thanksgiving” is the antithesis of self but I still find ways to make it about me (i.e. complaining about spending time with family members we don’t like and you know, overeating). 

 

The word thanksgiving by nature is others focused.

The opposite of thanksgiving is entitlement. Yet we tend to make all things about ourselves. What about our children? They are no different. They don’t come out of the womb thankful. They come out selfish and entitled. Yes, they are beautiful and sweet and wonderful...but they are self-centered. Entitlement comes easy for our kids. When was the last time you had to instruct them to be more self-focused? On the flip side, how many times do you have to instruct your children to be thankful? If you are like me then you are reminding them Every. Single. Day.

We need to also look at our own lives right now. How thankful are we? Again if you are like me, you need reminders Every. Single. Day. When my eyes are fixated on a Savior who died a death I deserved to die and who gave me abundant life I didn’t deserve to be given, I AM THANKFUL. 

When I think of a merciful and gracious God, whose steadfast love endures for all time, it leads me to overwhelming thankfulness. And the overflow of this is incredible! I begin to see all the GOOD gifts my GREAT God has given me through a gospel lens, and my default attitude and disposition becomes gratitude. 

The more I recognize the beauty of what Jesus did for me on the cross, how he saved an undeserving sinner, I become thankful. Thankfulness is the product of a heart that is overjoyed, satisfied, at rest, and filled to the full. Thankfulness is the product of a heart which knows it has been given everything undeservedly, so nothing good that does come is expected, demanded, overlooked as automatic, or deserved. This is how I want to be. This is how I want my children to be.

This is the culture that I am striving to cultivate in my home. And not just this month, but in the months to come, as the power of the gospel (the good news that Jesus saves sinners) drives, shapes, and informs a spirit of thankfulness in the lives of me, my spouse, and my children. I want my family to be a family that says thanks not out of obligation, but out of sincerity.

 

What if thanksgiving was more than just a holiday for us? What if it was a culture in our homes, a way of life for our families? 

Allow me to throw out a challenge: Every day let’s all take 5 minutes out of our busy schedules to remind our families how good Jesus has been by saving we sinners, and by giving us everything else we have (“Every good and perfect gift is from above…” James 1:17). Additionally, let’s focus on telling each other thanks in our homes, when thanksgiving is warranted.

By the grace of Jesus, let’s fight entitlement, consumerism, and self-centeredness in our homes by seeking God’s glory and cultivating cultures of gratitude and thanksgiving. I assure you our homes will be more full of joy than ever before. Why? Because ultimately, thanksgiving leads to great joy (1 Thess 3.9). Let’s put it to the test!

Halloween: Engage Or Eject?

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Since childhood, I can’t remember a time when the hottest debate amongst Christians in the month of October wasn’t Halloween. Christians lose their minds over this issue (see any social media platform for proof) almost as much as they do any of the other biggie’s of late like Trump, the NFL, same-sex marriage, and the second amendment. I digress.

Many in various evangelical circles have argued for complete exclusion from any sort of participation in Halloween. While others have tried to engage the second largest grossing holiday in America, viewing it as an opportunity to connect with their neighbors on one of the only days of the year their neighbors are outside their homes for more than a second. And then there is a third category of Christians who don’t care to think about the spiritual implications of the holiday, and approach the day as culture around them approaches it (unintentionally celebrating death under the guise of candy).

Most American Christians probably fall under the third category. Halloween is an opportunity for their children (and themselves - You know who you are!) to cop copious amounts of candy. They aren’t intentionally celebrating death or demons or evil. They’re just here for the candy.

For those that push the eject button on Halloween, would you please at minimum consider what it would look like to redeem the holiday, since it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. I get that you are not of this world, that your citizenship is in heaven but that doesn’t exclude the fact you have been sent into this world as an ambassador of the grace of Jesus.

 

We will get into that more in a moment but for now, here’s a brief history behind Halloween to catch you up:

  • Halloween’s roots began with an ancient Celtic festival called “Samhain” that ushered in the darkest part of winter, where spirits of the dead were believed to show up and damage crops and play “tricks” on the living. There were even animal sacrifices the Celtic priests would offer up to pagan gods.

  • The Roman influence then came into the picture 2,000 years ago with a day of celebrating the dead that would take place towards the end of October. It was essentially a day to celebrate and worship those who had died.

  • The rise of Christianity in the Celtic areas around 800 AD saw the institution of a new holiday called “All Saints Day” which took place the day after Samhain as a day to honor saints and martyrs. The selection of the day was intentional by Pope Boniface IV to serve as a holier alternative to Samhain.

  • All Saints Day eventually became known as “All Hallows Day” and people began calling Samhain, “All Hallows Eve” which was shortened to “Hallowe’en.”

  • All of the festivals involved costumes or dressing up. For example, men in Scotland for Samhain would dress up as the dead, explaining many of our modern day halloween attire. Others for “All Saints Day” would dress up as saints or angels. But if you’re keeping score, Halloween isn’t exactly rooted in a Christ-centered reality.

  • Like anything, culture (and evil human hearts) has twisted the day, making it all about consumerism, gluttony, and even borderline demon worship (all idolatry is demon-worship - including gluttony and consumerism), with many Christians falling into the first two categories, and even the third unknowingly.

  • Also of note, Halloween happens to fall on the exact day of the Reformation’s inception. 500 years ago this coming October 31st, Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses on the door of the Wittenburg Castle Church, ushering in one of the greatest gospel-centered revivals in 1400 years, since the inception of the church age. Modern Day protestantism exists by the grace of God because of that moment and the many moments and men that followed.

 

Listen (and please receive this knowing that I am in this for your good), but for those who struggle with celebrating a day of the dead (and I feel you, I really do), you need to likewise struggle with Easter and Christmas, since (like Halloween) both holidays are a hodge podge of pagan and Christian wrapped up in a tidy box of self-indulgence with a tidy bow of consumerism and gluttony on top. If you boycott one, you need to be logically and spiritually consistent by boycotting all three. It seems hypocritical at its core to boycott one and not the others.

Also, evil isn’t sourced externally (i.e. a holiday). It’s roots are found deep in the hearts of men and women (and children). We need to be much more concerned with the evil in our homes (because of the sinful hearts of the men, women, and children who live inside them) than we do the evil outside our homes. Consider Mark 7:21-23:

“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

 

Here’s my hot take on this issue: 

Since Jesus hung with tax collectors, prostitutes, murderers, thieves, and every other sordid person, my guess is that he would be all in on Halloween (not at some church fall festival alternative). Now I do believe Jesus wouldn’t necessarily be all in on the candy-grabbing or sexy-costume aspects, but rather because it is one of the few times out of the year where non believing sinners knock on the doors of believing sinners. This quote by George Robinson is so captivating:

“The reason I propose that good Christians celebrate Halloween and stay home from the 'Christian alternatives' is that Halloween is the only night of the year in our culture where lost people actually go door-to-door to saved people’s homes . . . and you’re down at the church hanging out with all your other good Christian friends having clean fellowship with the non-pagans.”

 

How about a new (or renewed) vision for Halloween?

  • Instead of receiving or rejecting Halloween, let’s commit to redeeming it. Nothing says “you hate me” more to the world than a Christian who secludes himself and puts signs up on his home that say: “We don’t observe holidays reserved for Satan worship!” (Yes, that was on one of my neighbor’s doors last year).

  • Instead of attending a church alternative (trunk or treat) that encourages you to bring your unsaved neighbors to (but who will never come because they are all about that trick or treating life - and can you blame them?), set up shop in your driveway, and hand candy out to your neighbors all night long.

  • Instead of buying the small, miniature versions of various delectable candy treats, roll on over to a wholesale store (Cosco, Sam’s Club, BJ’s) and purchase $100 worth of full-sized or even king-sized candy bars. Our family did this last year and it was the best $100 we’ve ever spent.

  • Instead of throwing massive budget-busting Halloween parties at your church, invest that money into the small groups within your church, so that they can in turn throw epic Halloween block parties in their driveways.

  • Instead of just sending your kids out trick or treating to further promote consumerism, have pre-made goodie bags made with the best candy (hint: not salt water taffy, tootsie rolls, and black licorice) and an invite card to your church or a card with Romans 5:8 printed on it (“While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”). We’ve done this in years past and it always catches people off guard.

  • Instead of putting a bowl of candy at your front door with a sign on it that says “Take one!” be ready for the door-knockers, engage them, talk to their parents, take a moment to get to know them if you don’t already, ask them where they live etc.

 

Ultimately, the question is this: Do we want the world to know us by our love or by our segregation?

I think the answer is simple. God is never displeased with you taking something that culture has twisted and distorted and bringing the beauty of the gospel into. So I say go for it! Dress your kids up as Reformers (jk).

Engage Halloween intentionally. Not with consumerism in mind. But for the sake of the gospel - for the glory of Christ and for the good of the world around you!

The Struggle Is Real (To Own our Wrong)

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Recently, my oldest son came home from his school day shaken up. He wears his heart on his sleeve so clearly something had happened earlier in the day. When I asked he responded with this: “My teacher was mean to me today, dad!

When I asked him to elaborate, his dramatic and emotional response was this:

“She told me I was going to be surprised by the grade I received on my test. I asked her if I got an ‘F’ and she said, ‘Yep!’ She also told me she wanted to have a conference with you and mom because of my talking! AND (he added), she really came down on me about not doing 3 of my homework assignments.”

Mind you, he said all of this with tears flowing down his face. He legitimately believed a great injustice had been done to him. I asked him if he felt hurt more because of the way she responded to him or by the actual “charges” she had brought against him. He said it was more so because of how harshly he thought she responded to him.

But as we unpacked the situation more, he attempted to devalue the charges as well, making statements like: “But I did all of my OTHER homework!” and “But OTHER kids were talking out of turn too!” and “But I pay attention to her MOST of the time!

 

This all-too-common response was my son’s attempt to do three things with his sin:

  1. Minimize (It isn’t that bad).

  2. Blame-shift (It is another person’s fault - “They made me do it!”).

  3. Miss it altogether (As my son did in this instance).

And so ensued the 500th conversation in which I attempted to patiently, gently, graciously, and truthfully bring my child to a place where he could see his sin for what it was - as a serious and personal offense against God (as one theologian put it: “Sin is cosmic treason!”), and as something that doesn’t just affect him, but others around him (in this case, his sin hurt his teacher).

 

The "WHY"...

First off, let’s talk about "why" I should lean towards gentleness when it comes to my children not seeing their sin. The truth is I am just like them and the way God deals with me is patient, slow to anger, and quick to love. There’s a verse for this, isn’t there? In fact, this verse is one of the most quoted verses in Scripture: “The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” Exodus 34:6 (and a slew of other places in Scripture). At the core of the good news is a God who is slow to anger and quick to love when it comes to his children’s sin.

Next, let’s get into the “why” behind my son not seeing his own sin. Really, this is a matter of why all of us struggle to truly own our sin, especially in the situations we feel wronged by others. Jesus addressed this in his sermon on the mount:

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:3-5

Jesus places this in the context of judgment (“Judge not, that you be not judged.” Matthew 7:1). The point of this statement is that when it comes to other people’s sin, we tend to be judge, jury, and executioner. We act as though we are the authoritative voice in all matters as if somehow we miraculously became omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.

Only God can eternally judge a person’s soul and he alone has earned that right as God. But at the same time, he allows us to evaluate other people’s lives and sin, although not before we evaluate our own lives and sin. Sin is personal. But no one’s sin is more personal than our own sin. Yet we take other people’s sin (especially the sin committed against us) so personally. Jesus wants us to be offended by our own sin more than anyone else’s sin (hence, the log vs speck analogy).

The grace here is two-fold: First of all, when we see our sin as greater than anyone else’s, we see our desperate need for rescue. Secondly, we can properly, tenderly, lovingly, and truthfully engage another person’s sin, pushing them to hopefully see their desperate need for rescue.

Ultimately, the trick is to own our sin. But we don’t, really. And our kids don’t either. Probably because they don’t see their parents owning it much. We lessen its seriousness. We throw it onto others. We brush it aside. We miss it completely.

So where is the hope? What is the solution? How can we own our sin and help our kids do the same?

 

Consider these helpful thoughts about what it looks like to truly own our sin (aka repent):

  1. Repentance is a gift, therefore it is not something we earn (2 Timothy 2:25).

  2. Repentance is of God, which means it is more about God than it ever will be about us (Acts 20:21).

  3. Repentance is a continuous posture, rather than a singled-out, one-time practice (1 Peter 5:5).

  4. Repentance leads us to joy, not just sorrow (Ps. 51:1-12).

  5. Repentance (true repentance) results in change in the life of a person (Gal 5:22-23).

 

Ultimately, repentance is about Jesus - His grace humbling us to see the severity of our sin, recognizing its consequences (eternal and temporal), but being more broken about what our sin led Jesus to (death on the cross) than what it leads us to (earthly and eternal death), so that we would be moved towards Jesus, knowing he is our only hope, in life and death!

The hope for you is the same hope for your children. It's always Jesus! The more you and your family can humble yourselves before the Lord to see your need for Him, the more change you will see in all of your lives. And this may be hard to hear, but by the grace of God, you need to lead out in this!

I am praying for you!

The Best Bible (Or Bible Resource) For Every Age

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There is one book that stands above all others: The Bible! Somewhere around 6 billion copies have been printed since 1816. It is the best-selling book of all time, having been translated into 636 different languages! Needless to say, the Bible is the most popular literary work in the history of the world. But it is also the most polarizing, leaving its readers enlightened, enticed, or enraged, but not much in between. The reason for the polarity is because of the Bible’s claims. Consider these few:

  • The Bible claims to be God’s Word (“All Scripture is breathed out by God…” 2 Timothy 3:16).

  • The Bible claims to be perfect (“The law of the LORD is perfect...” Psalm 19:7-9).

  • The Bible claims to be relevant for all of life (“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Tim 3:16).

  • The Bible claims to hold the keys to eternal life (“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,” John 5:39).

 

As Christians, we believe these claims to be true.

And if they are true, then as parents the greatest gift we could ever give our children is God’s Word. The reason we give our children the gift of God’s Word is so that they may know the God of God’s Word. The Bible isn’t simply a book about morals, ethics, and values. It is THE book that leads us to THE God of the universe who happens to be Creator and Savior.

But the Bible can be very intimidating as well...for us and for our children. That is why I have written before on how to read the Bible with your kids, which served as a sort of a starter pack for reading the Bible. I’ve also written before about when to make the transition from a storybook Bible to the real deal. But I’ve never written about what resources work best for all the various ages and stages of our children...until now!

[As a side note, I highly encourage parents to read the actual Bible to their children beginning at the earliest age possible. I have nothing against Bible story books; in fact, I am going to suggest a couple below. But the fact is, when Moses encouraged the Israelites to diligently teach their children the words that had been commanded, he didn’t have a picture story book in mind. If all Scripture is for all of life, then it can be for all of life’s stages and all of life’s ages.]

 

Ages 0-3: “The Big Picture Story Bible” (Author: David R. Helm)

  • This Bible storybook has nursery rhyme-type illustrations and a simplistic script (meaning, it isn’t very wordy).

  • The content follows and explains clearly the redemptive narrative of the Bible (how God saves sinners).

  • A favorite quote comes out of the early pages when Adam and Eve had just sinned and subsequently were condemned to death but given the hope of the gospel: “God gave Adam and Eve a hint that he would not always be angry with them. God promised that one day someone would come and crush Satan’s power over people.”

  • “The Big Picture Story Bible” is perfect for teaching our youngest children the stories of the Bible, giving them a grasp of not only the major events and characters, but also the hero: Jesus!

 

Ages 2-75: “The Jesus StoryBook Bible” (Author: Sally Lloyd Jones)

  • No other children’s storybook Bible has quite captivated the hearts of its readers like this book. Over 2 million copies have been sold, which means over 2 million households (English and Spanish speaking) have been able to partake in one of the greatest literary gifts given to this generation.

  • The writing is relatable to children and adults of all ages (hence, the age range given above) and many parents have even professed a greater understanding of the goodness of the gospel of Jesus Christ after having read this book.

  • Many churches would serve their children well by using this book as their curriculum. And many homes would serve their children (and adults) well by coming back to this book year after year after year.

  • The book itself journeys through the narrative of Scripture, hitting the highlights (like many children’s books), but very poetically communicating the beauty of the gospel.

 

Ages 3-5: “Everything A Child Should Know About God” (Author: Kenneth N. Taylor)

  • This theological treatise for small children will warm even your heart with its simplicity and tenderness.

  • The book itself doesn’t work through the stories of the Bible (although it covers some of the biggies like creation, the fall of man, as well as the birth, miracles, and death of Jesus) but rather focuses on teaching children basic theological concepts (i.e. nature and character of God and man).

  • The book’s illustrations are captivating and each page is interactive, introducing a theme, an explanation of that theme, and a question surrounding the information given to make the children think about what was communicated.

  • “Everything A Child Should Know About God” is additionally great for those children who are learning to read.

 

Ages 4-10: “The Ology: Ancient Truths, Ever New” (Author: Marty Machowski)

  • This book is an absolute gem, teaching children over 70 theological topics straight from Scripture.

  • The visual illustrations are unique, warm, and pleasant to the eye. The content itself is clear and well written.

  • I assure you that this book will not only teach your children theology, but it will teach you as well.

  • Many theological books written for adults that attempt to explain massive and important areas of doctrine, such as the trinity, sin, God’s covenant, atonement, the church, and the Holy Spirit (to name a few), don’t do as good and succinct of a job as this book does.

 

Ages 5-8: “The Biggest Story: How The Snake Crusher Brings Us Back To The Garden” (Author: Kevin DeYoung)

  • This story book tells the story of Scripture in the most honest and clear way, making Jesus the hero in every sense (which has caused some to not enjoy the book because they think the author is too hard on mankind).

  • The book highlights all of the big moments, stories, and people with one goal in mind: Esteeming the snake crusher (Jesus) and his plan to eradicate sin, evil, Satan, and death.

  • One of the book’s final statements is its finest: “The Snake Crusher is coming back again to wipe away all the bad guys and wipe away every tear.”

  • As your child reads through this fast moving rendition of Scripture, he will be able to grasp the full scope of the Bible and the core of the gospel: that Jesus saves sinners!

 

Ages 6-12: “The Action Bible” (Author: Doug Mauss)

  • This comic looking story book Bible, whose illustrator hails from DC and Marvel Comics (Sergio Cariello), will visually bring to life over 200 stories from Scripture right before your child’s eyes.

  • In all honesty, nothing else has done the work of teaching my sons the stories of the Bible like this phenomenal literary and artistic work. Your child will feel like he or she is actually in the story.

  • Because The Action Bible covers so much material, your children will not just learn the most popular stories, but also many of the more obscure stories as well.

  • Additionally, the book is very interactive, providing a key verse, a couple questions to ponder, and a few ways to put the new truths you’ve learned into ACTION.

 

Ages 8-12: “Following Jesus Bible” (ESV Version)

  • This is a great first Bible for kids who have had a steady dose of storybook Bibles, who can read well, and who can comprehend what they read fairly well.

  • The Bible itself is relatively straightforward, with a few feature items on various pages such as additional information (i.e. “Who were Noah’s Sons?” Genesis 9; “Why is the mention of women significant?” Luke 8”1-3).

  • This Bible looks a little more “grown up” than the typical first Bible which gives children the idea that they have entered the Big Leagues in their spiritual journey.

 

Ages 13-17: “The ESV Student Study Bible”

  • This Bible is perfect for teenagers who are serious about really diving in and learning from God’s Word.

  • It is adapted from the ESV study Bible, which is arguably one of the best study Bibles in circulation.

  • The point of a study Bible for teens is for them to continue to see and learn how the Bible applies for all of life.

  • With over 12,000 notes, introductions and explanations of each book of the Bible, maps, illustrations, and “did you know” facts, this Bible is a can’t miss for your teenager.


Remember...

There is nothing more important than your child being known and loved by Jesus, which hopefully in turn would cause them to know and love Jesus. The most incredible way to make this happen is to give your children ample quality resources while they grow up, so that they can journey through what it looks like to “hide God’s Word in their heart...” (Ps 119:11).

Healthy Marriages Drive Healthy Parenting

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No other human relationship in Scripture is presented as more special, unique, important, intimate, and ultimate than the marriage relationship. Hands down, it gets the first place blue ribbon. No participation trophy here. Above any other anthropomorphic connection, the marital variety stands victorious.

Consider what the Bible has to say:

  • Marriage is described as two becoming one: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”  Genesis 2:24

  • Marriage is described as a covenant: “Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.” Malachi 2:14

  • Marriage is compared to Jesus’ relationship with the church: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Ephesians 5:25

  • Marriage is viewed by God in the same way he views the entirety of his creation: “He who finds a wife finds a GOOD thing and obtains favor from the LORD.”

 

Needless to say, marriage matters. It matters to God most profoundly. Which means, it must matter to us!

Additionally, God seems to place the priority of marriage over parenting. When the Apostle Paul spoke to the church in Ephesus, he addressed the marriage relationship (chapter five) before addressing the relationship between children and parents (chapter 6). The prioritized sequence there doesn’t seem to be accidental.

Even clearer, are Paul’s words to his apprentice Timothy when detailing the qualifications of a pastor. He deals with the marital relationship (“husband of one wife”) before parenting (“keeping his children submissive” 1 Timothy 3:2, 4). Clearly, there is an order of importance given. The marriage comes before all other relationships in the household.

Yes, it is true that the instruction presented in 1 Timothy is for pastors, but we would be remiss to say these words are exclusively for pastors. If this were the case, we’d have to do the same with the other qualifications given (“sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money” etc…). We can all agree that each of those qualifications apply for every disciple of Jesus (see Galatians 5:22-23).

 

The Norm

Recently, some friends of mine confessed to me they put their children to bed around 10pm every day. We both agreed that 10pm was kind of late to be putting a kid to bed (since, scientifically, kids need a lot more sleep than adults). I then asked them if they ever had time to invest in their marriage. They said they didn’t have time. When I stated the obvious, “Why don’t you just put your child down earlier?” their response was, “Our child doesn’t get tired until late.”

Sadly, their response was not surprising...

Parents tend to trade cultivating a healthy marriage for the comfort of their children. This is equal parts true and tragic. I know this because at times I have been the chief culprit. Instead of prioritizing my wife, I have promoted my children’s welfare in the home above her own, leaving her feeling unloved, unprotected, and leaving our marriage undermined.

When this happens, my marriage suffers. And if there is one thing I’ve learned it is this: If my marriage suffers, so does my parenting, especially when parenting is the one thing I’ve put before my marriage. So how can we as parents guard against this? What does this look like practically?

 

May I suggest a few thoughts on this?

  1. Before we can cultivate healthy marriages, we need to cultivate healthy souls (“My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.” Psalm 84:2). Speaking of priorities, our worship of Jesus is paramount to everything. We must see him as the best thing in our lives in order to appropriately order every other thing in our lives.

  2. Healthy marriages don’t happen by osmosis. We must be intentional. We must see the urgency. What I continue to learn after 12+ years of marriage, is that I must be the one to fight the hardest for my marriage. When my wife sees me fight hard, she feels loved, and she in turn fights hard.

  3. Healthy marriages need space to be cultivated. When our parenting has zero boundaries (i.e. kids stay up as late as we do), our marriages become bound by our children’s lack of boundaries. We have to create space in our daily rhythms to cultivate healthier marriages. One simple way to do this is in conversation. If allowed, kids will constantly interrupt spousal conversations. Teach kids that this is wrong. Teach them that unless it is an emergency, what they have to say can wait.

  4. Healthy marriages are about the long game, parenting the short. The goal for marriage is “‘Til death do us part.” The goal for parenting is “Til you’re 18, can drive, and can get a job.” Jokes aside, marriage is about endurance over a much longer period of time than parenting is. Longer endurance means bigger investment.

  5. Healthy marriages actually help to cultivate healthy children. When my marriage comes before my parenting, I am a better parent. When I love my wife well, I will undoubtedly love my children well. When my children see me love my wife (their mom) well, they are given a picture of what it looks like for Christ to love His church, which makes them love Christ, their parents, each other better, their world, and one day, their spouse better. The ripple effect is more far-reaching than we could ever imagine!

  6. Healthy marriages are the greatest example of the gospel of grace for our children. When we prioritize our marriages above our children, our children are given a glimpse of God’s great love (the sacrificial, unconditional, unwavering, unstoppable, loving-the-unlovable kind) which makes a fundamentally lasting impact on their souls and lives and naturally causes them to see the good news lived out in our homes.

 

Healthy marriages will drive healthy parenting! Healthy marriages will determine healthy homes. Our kids will flourish if our marriages flourish. We must fight for this in our homes. For God’s glory, ultimately, but also for the good of every single person in our home

Children: Fitting In vs Standing Out

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There is a statement I've heard frequently over the years in many Christian circles: "We are in the world but not of the world!" It is derived from Jesus' high priestly prayer to the Father in John 17:

"They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world...As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world." (17:16, 18)

This statement will always be helpful for followers of Jesus because we live in the tension of a fallen world and a glorious eternity and God desires for us to be faithful ambassadors and stewards of the good news while we are on this earth.

Sadly, it seems as though the modern westernized Christian parent has taken a few too many licentious liberties with this whole bit of being "in the world" and as a result, we are raising little cultural carbon copies of the world's version of a child. We have become bent on keeping-up-with-the-Jones's rather than fighting against the "Jones's" by teaching our kids what it looks like to say, as the Apostle Paul stated (the Paul who probably was beheaded by Nero in 66AD): "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is my gain!" (Phil. 1:21)

Whether through entertainment (i.e. pop culture, music, television, movies, and the internet), multi-media (i.e. phones, tablets, and all the latest gadgets), or extracurricular activities (i.e. youth sports and after school programs), we have overwhelmingly decided as parents that we would rather our kids blend in, to mirror the status quo, rather than stick out - not for the sake of being different, but for the sake of being like Christ so that others may know Christ!

A recent statement made by author and speaker Jen Wilkin helped to get to the bottom of this issue when she said something to the effect of this: As parents who love Jesus, we need to trade the COMFORT of our children fitting in for the CALLING of them standing out.

Why do we choose to blend our children into culture rather than have them stick out? Because it's too risky and costly to do otherwise. After all, our children are already fragile and vulnerable, right? Why would we want to potentially expose them even more by teaching them to stand out? This thought is scary. So we instead choose comfort, convenience, and ease.

When we do this, we forget who our children are as followers of Jesus. According to Jesus, they (and we) are salt, light, cities on hills, and lamps in rooms (see Matthew 5:13-16). They are not garden variety needles in haystacks, fish in great big oceans, minions in a crowd of minions, or grains of sand on a beach.

By (spiritual) nature, they are designed to stand out. If you are not convinced at this point, consider the imagery used by the Psalmist in Psalm 127: "Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth
." Arrows are designed to be felt by whatever their target is. Our goal isn't to reproduce and subsequently send out safe children in a safe world. Rather, our goal is to (by the grace of God) forge and refine and reproduce razor-sharp kids who know how to love Jesus and love their world well and to send them out to make huge dents in it.

Why should we want our children to stand out rather than fit in? Jesus answers this in Matthew 5:16: "let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."

The world needs the hope of Jesus and our kids can and will bring that hope to the world!

My Child's Faith And An Avocado

One of my favorite so-called super foods is Avocado. I love Avocados, mostly because they are the key ingredient to Guacamole, so maybe I should be honest and say that I love Guacamole. 

But I have beef with Avocados and no, it's not because they are a vegetable (so no pun intended here). There is however this undergirding question whose answer seemingly continues to perplex the most ardent avocado lover: How can a person know without a doubt that an avocado is ripe?

[If THIS "How to know" list doesn't prove my point to the confusion and difficulty that surrounds the answer, I quit. I mean seriously with #3 on the list? "Gently squeeze the fruit. It should not be too hard or too mushy." What in the world!? Honestly, the above list should just say bluntly: "The way to know an avocado is ripe is...to BE OMNISCIENT!"]

To be perfectly candid, as a parent, my child's faith/walk with God/love for God is a lot like an avocado. With all three of my children (who by the way have all made a profession of faith in Jesus), it has been difficult at times to determine whether they possess a genuine belief in Jesus (AKA, if they are ripe), or if they have yet to be saved. I (figuratively) "gently squeeze" their little hearts to see if there are any signs of a sincere love for Jesus and quite often, all I get are self-absorbed-filled hard moments where they seem to only be fighting for their kingdom to come and for their will to be done.

That said, it becomes increasingly tricky when you throw baptism (believer's baptism - nothing against baby baptisms here, just need to pick a side for the sake of the post) and communion into the conversation. A couple FAQ's I receive monthly are: "When is my child ready for baptism?" and "When can my child take communion?" Many parents struggle to find the answers and lean heavy towards not encouraging their child's child-like faith (ironically) for the sake of making sure there is enough evidence to validate their child being baptized.

Parents, it seems we are holding our children to an unBiblical and unOrthodox standard where their faith becomes based upon their merit and baptism or communion are viewed as religious stepping-off points or rites of passage which our kids must work towards as signs they are growing in their "walks" with Jesus. If this is our reality, we are greatly mistaken.

So when will we ever know our kids are saved and they are ripe to take communion and be baptized into their local church? The quick answer is this: You will never really know. And now that I have riveted you with that hope-filled answer, allow me to provide further clarification by giving you a few thoughts as you navigate through this difficult subject:

1. Only God really knows. So let him do His job. He is the author and perfecter of our children's faith (Hebrews 12:2), therefore it is God who alone saves them and it is God alone who knows whom He has saved (Acts 15:8).

2. But we can know too. There are tangible markers that point to a genuine faith of our children (In fact, there are more than a few passages in Scripture that clearly communicate this. See John 13:35 and Galatians 5:22-23).

3. If your child desires to confess, profess, and declare Jesus as Savior, run with it. Contrary to popular westernized-cultural Christianity (AKA, your Sunday school teacher as a kid), there is no secret, magical prayer in which we "ask Jesus into our hearts." The saving work alone belongs to God (Isaiah 43:11). We don't invite Jesus into our hearts. He invites us to come to him (Matt. 11:28).  But there is something to be said about a confession from our child's mouth, welling up from a heart that has been granted the faith to trust Jesus as Lord (Romans 10:9). Don't overcomplicate this. If your child desires for Jesus to save them, go with it. Celebrate it. Make much of it. And use it as a springboard to a (hopeful) life-long adventure of your child loving Jesus.

4. Since you don't understand everything about God, please don't place this expectation on your child. Often times we expect our children to be able to comprehend and communicate the intricacies of God, the Bible, and the gospel of Jesus Christ. But have you figured it all out yet? Have you arrived? Consider Romans 11:34: "For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?" Truth is, none of us will ever fully figure out God and His redemptive plan (this side of glory), but does your child have a basic understanding of God's character (i.e. His preeminence, His massivity, His authority, His love, His grace)? And does your child have a basic understanding of their sin and the consequences of their sin (what it is and what it leads to)? Finally, does your child have a basic understanding of their need for a Savior and that their hope can only be in Jesus to save them? Then, they are exactly where God wants them to be. Correct me if I'm wrong but God says a lot about the faith of a child in Scripture (Matt 18:3)?

5. Nothing can ever separate your child from God's love. Call me covenantal, but I wholeheartedly believe that if parents love Jesus, chances are their kids will too (that God's promise to save you and your spouse is also for your children). This is a truism, so it isn't 100% fool proof. But if God has extended his love for you and for your children, nothing can ever get in the way of that; not evil, sin, Satan, death, hell, you, or your children. NOTHING! Whether or not you think your child is "ready" for baptism and communion has no bearing on God's great love for them. But baptism and communion are great opportunities to remind your child of God's great love for them.

Ultimately, since the ordinances/sacraments of baptism and communion are signs, pointing to Jesus' great love for His followers, and saved people participate in them, and if your child has been saved by the grace of Jesus, please let them participate in them if they so desire. Don't hold your child back from obeying Jesus. Encourage obedience and instill in their little life at an early age that doing what Jesus says (namely to "be baptized" and "remember often" Him through the bread and cup) is the most important decision they could ever make.

How To Vacation Well

Okay, I need to be honest with you. My dream family vacation isn't Disney World (or Land). I grew up an hour away from D-Land in SoCal and never drank the Kool-Aid. I have lived an hour away from D-World in Tampa these past 8 years and haven't gone one time. Not once! I know, I know... This is appalling and I need to immediately repent for my gross indiscretion towards my 3 kids by robbing them of experiencing the "happiest place on earth."

Or...

I can continue to not sweat (literally) braving the long lines, encountering creepy grown men in halloween costumes (still my daughter's greatest fear in life), or losing my entire life's savings on ONE DAY of sort-of fun. 

If Disney is how you and your family love to vacation, great (it just isn't our cup of tea)! But odds are, even if it is, you probably need some other options (because too much of a good thing makes it an awful thing, and I could see Disney easily falling into that category...I kid;).

After 10 years of vacationing trial and error, our family has learned a lot about what works and what doesn't so I thought I'd share a few thoughts to help you and your family as you continue to navigate how to vacation well. 

Allow me to keep it simple and straightforward through these 5 steps:

  1. Figure out the purpose and overall aim behind the vacation. No need to overcomplicate this but ask the question "Why?" Is this vacation for rest, adventure, casual sight-seeing, crazy fast-paced fun, visiting family, etc...? It's hard to accomplish all of those things in one fail swoop so narrow the focus and lower the expectations. 
  2. Understand that vacationing is an opportunity for normal life rhythms to be interrupted so that we can be reminded of God's glory. Breaking the cycle of normal rhythms and routines is always good (if even for a day or two). We can view vacationing as a way to Sabbath. The Sabbath Day wasn't necessarily about not working (although that was a bi-product). It was an opportunity to take a break from the norm in order to remember who is in charge of the universe and to behold God's glory and to be attentive to him.
  3. Figure out what your family enjoys doing the most together. So many of us fall into the trap of doing what everyone around us is doing. We think that if the masses love Disney or cruises or theme parks, that our families will likewise love those things. What is life-giving to YOUR family? Road trips, the beach, the mountains, theme parks, stay-cations, resorts, etc...? Figure this out and you've won 99% of the battle.
  4. Realize that vacationing well doesn't have to involve spending a ton of money. With current low gas prices, a road trip to a fun new destination (a few hours away from home) is a great option. Your family can find a great, cheap place to stay using sites like AirBNB. Typically there are a myriad of free things to do at any travel destination and you can use your family's normal monthly budget to pay for expenses on the trip (groceries, gas, eating out, entertainment etc.). Some of my family's greatest vacationing moments happened for example in the back yard of our Air BNB home over a game of Jenga, or in the car on a road trip, or on a porch swing in a cabin in the woods, or on a hike in the Rocky mountains, or over a game of corn hole on the beach. The best moments aren't necessarily the most expensive moments. They are the priceless moments that no money could ever buy.
  5. Realize that vacationing isn't necessarily about your comfort, conveniences, and desires. Our default is to glamorize vacations and place them in a tidy box with a nifty bow on top. We view them as self-serving opportunities. Honestly, vacations aren't about us. Heck, they aren't even for us. They are ABOUT God's glory and FOR our families and the more we understand this, the more we will begin to get the most out of them (and God is so gracious to give us moments of rest, solace, and convenience because He's good like that).

So much more could be said from the practical side of things, but in order for us to serve you and your particular needs, we need your feedback. Would you mind commenting below about things that you've learned over the years, as well as any questions you might have at this point. We would love to serve you by helping you navigate through your questions, thoughts, and concerns on how to redeem vacationing. Thanks!