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Posts Tagged ‘Advent’

Christmas-PageantThat’s the last thing my kids need! All they think about is Christmas!

I know what you mean. I remember one of our grandkids who, as a three-year-old, took all the toy catalogues that came in the mail and circled everything in each one that Santa should bring!  And, of course, almost everything was circled!

I just wonder if doing some things intentionally with our children to help them remember Jesus might counteract some of the overwhelming advertising that they see every day? 

Let’s do this first:  without any framing or context, just ask your kids why Christmas is a holiday. You might do it like this:

1)      Hey, kids, why do we have Christmas anyway?

2)      Does anyone know how Christmas got started?

3)      What’s the best thing about Christmas?

I’m guessing that at least 50% of the time, you’ll get something about presents. Older kids may mention Jesus, so if they do, here are some follow-up questions for you to try:

1)      So what does the birth of Jesus have to do with Christmas?

2)      Do you think most people are celebrating the birth of Jesus?  What do you think most people are celebrating at Christmastime?

3)      When do you think about Jesus at Christmas?

That’s just the starting activity for you as parents to find out where your kids are.  Knowing what they think will help you prepare for the rest of Advent.

Of course, I don’t know what your kids will say to these questions, so I’m just going to share with you some different activities that you might try to help your kids think about Jesus during this season.  You pick and choose what works for your kids–or discard completely and substitute your own ideas.

 

This first week of Advent is almost over, so use these ideas the rest of this week and on Thursday, I’ll post the second week of activities, and then each week, I’ll give you some more ideas for that week. I’d love to hear the ideas that you add to these. Please share them with all of us.

First Advent Week      God So Loved the World

The Big Idea:

From the beginning, God loved us so much that He planned to send Jesus—to the whole world!

Ideas:

  1. You might find an inexpensive globe—any size—and use it to talk about God making the whole world and loving every single person in every country.  You could take some modeling clay and let your child make a big Earth of clay and then “populate” it with dots.  Message: God planned when He made the world to send Jesus to help us because He loves us so much!
  2. I love advent calendars—you know, the ones with 25 little windows that children can open each day before Christmas. The typical ones have little pieces of candy behind each window.  Candy is part of God’s goodness, so I wouldn’t avoid those. There are also Christian advent calendars that have verses behind each window—or pictures of some nativity person or event.  You can find them at Christian bookstores or online.
  3. I saw a great idea for making your own advent calendar while we were in Germany.  They took a simple length of rope—maybe 4-5 feet long—and then they used very small children’s mittens, one for each day, hung on the rope by a wooden clothes pin.  I don’t think you put 25 up, rather 7 for each day of that week, and then you can put a little verse, a little picture you have cut out, a little figure perhaps—and don’t forget a little piece of candy!
  4. If your kids are a little older, you might try reading Isaiah 9:6-7, and talk with them about the fact that Isaiah is telling about Jesus 700 years before Jesus is born. God loved us so much that He began His plan hundreds of years (really thousands—you can go back to Abraham’s promise(Gen 12:1-3) —or further to the first prophecy of Jesus to Eve (Gen. 3:15).  Then, I’d suggest asking your older child, what could they do that would bless someone in the future, maybe someone who would be born 100 years from now—and let them do it!

I want to suggest some good music each time as well. I myself am a big believer in exposing kids to good classical music, so the first song I’d suggest is from Handel’s Messiah, “For Unto Us A Child Is Born”—one of my favorites.

If you need something lighter, but still classy, Mary Chapin Carpenter’s song “Come Darkness, Come Light” is one that has great words, a simple melody, and it will be new to your kids.  You can find both of these easily online.

That’s enough for the first week of Advent. I’ll have more for you for next week on Thursday.  Let me hear how this first week goes.

 

(Reposted from 2012)

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Fourth Advent

Story and Text:  The Birth of Jesus—and the Announcement to the Shepherds! (Luke 2:1-7;  8-20)

Big Idea:              Jesus was really born. This is not a fairy tale!  His birth changed the whole world!

                It’s really hard to separate fact and fiction as a child. I just had a conversation with one mother who worried about whether pretending about Santa Claus might bleed over into her children thinking she was “pretending” about Jesus.  I don’t really share her fear, but I do appreciate her sensitivity to the problem that many adults have of truly believing that Jesus was/is real!

Activities:

  1.  Go to the maternity ward of a local hospital during hours when newborns can be viewed. Try to pick out the one that looks like Baby Jesus. Of course, it would be a boy, not a girl. Would he be dark-skinned, pink, big, small, hair or hairless? It’s just a game, but Jesus did look just like one of these babies.  If you can’t go to the hospital, then look at pictures of newborns on the computer.
  2. There was no room at the hotels. So where would you stay if you traveled to a new city and could not stay at a hotel?  With a relative? But what if you knew no one?  The only place you were offered was . . . . someone’s barn, or their garage . . . .or a basement . What if your house was the last hotel that Mary and Joseph came to and all the beds and couches were taken. Where would you put them?  You might want to go out to the garage and look for a place to make a bed.  No lights, just a candle.
  3. What do shepherds do at night while the sheep are sleeping? Some of them sleep while others watch the sheep!  Turn out all of the lights in your kid’s room and let them watch the sheep. SUDDENLY a bright light appears! LOUD MUSIC starts with angels singing!  Do you get the picture?  Can you recreate that moment? No wonder the angels had to tell them not to be afraid!
  4. Where would you look for Baby Jesus if the angels told you to go to Bethlehem to find him? (Could draw a maze!) The hospital?  The church building? What clues did the angels give the shepherds?  What if someone rang your doorbell in the middle of the night, looking for a new baby, what would you think?  Where would they look at your house?  Would they ever think to look in the garage??
  5. After the shepherds left, they couldn’t stop talking about what had happened to them and the baby they had seen!  Why didn’t they keep it a secret—just for themselves??  Is this the same reason we keep talking about Jesus?
  6. What would be different in the world if Jesus had never been born?  If you have watched It’s A Wonderful Life with your kids, then you can refer to what Bedford Falls would have been if George Bailey had never been born. But even without the movie, you can talk about this and see what the kids come up with.

I do hope these small ideas have helped stimulate your own creativity in talking with your children about the birth of Jesus.  I know you realize that your young kids are taking in everything you do and say, so the biggest activity of all in preparing your kids is to show them that Jesus means everything to you! The moments they hear you talking about Jesus, or doing for others in Jesus’ name, or remembering to thank God for Jesus when you pray instead of just asking for things . . . when they observe that you really love Jesus, even when they don’t fully understand what all of this means, they are being given the best gifts you have to give them, all you really want for them to learn from you!

You are the star that guides them, you are the announcement of His birth, you are the messenger that God has chosen who blesses your children with the Good News that the Savior has come into the world and dwelt among us!

Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.

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How did that first Advent week go with your children?  Did you ask them the questions I suggested to see what their framework for Christmas looks like?  I’m very interested in their answers. Please share them with us all. Use the “Comments” section to tell us what your child/children said.

For the second Advent week, we want to focus on the angel telling Mary that she is going to have a baby and on the story of the three wise men.

Text:      Luke 1:26-38

Big Idea:             Nine months before Christmas Day, God told Mary she was going to have a baby boy. Jesus was born like every other baby—fully human—but the Son of God.

Activities:

  1. You have to read the story to your children, but read it from The Message or a Children’s Bible—but not a story book.  Then use these conversation starters to talk about it at the appropriately level with your child.
    1. Why do you think God chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus?
    2. Who was going to be the father?  (You don’t have to get into sexual questions here—unless you need to—but it is important for kids to learn that God is the Father of Jesus, not Joseph.
    3. Why do you think Mary was a little afraid of the angel Gabriel?  Would you be afraid?
    4. How do you think Mary felt when she found out she was going to be the mother of Jesus?
    5. How long was she going to be pregnant?  Do you think she could talk to people about what had happened to her?
    6. You might visit with a woman that you know who is pregnant, if your child has not really experienced this with you.
    7. Look at the calendar to see how long Mary had to wait for Christmas Day.
    8. You might make a 9-day calendar, representing the 9 months and use it as a mini-advent calendar, especially if your child is interested in Mary.  Each day you could do something that Mary might have done to get ready for her new baby: make diapers, find baby toys, a blanket for the baby, etc.

You can also include the story of the three wise men from the East

Text:      Matthew 2:1-12

Big Idea:  The birth of Jesus was for the whole world!

Activities:

  1. Look at a globe or map and figure out how far it is from Babylon to Bethlehem. Then figure out how long it might take them to make this journey if they were riding camels.
  2. You might go to the zoo and look at the camels. Talk about how you would ride one and how they would carry their gifts on the camels. If you don’t go to the zoo, then search the internet together to find great pictures and information about camels?
  3. Talk about the star that the wise men followed. Go look at the stars! Are any of them moving? What if you saw one that was moving! What would you do?  Why did these men follow the star so far? What did they believe?

—You might make a series of stars, graduating the size of the stars from small to large, one for each day until Christmas. Then you could hang or stick them on the ceiling, starting from the farthest corner of your house, but with the largest one above your nativity scene on the night before Christmas, to create your own journey of the magi.

  1. Of course, you can gather golden coins (get the $1 coins from the bank), perfume, and spices and make little presents out of them, like the wise men did.
  2. With older kids, you can talk about whether the men were kings or not, you can talk about astrology, and you can acknowledge that they probably showed up much later than Christmas Day (Mary and Joseph are in a house, and King Herod has all babies under the age of 2 put to death!), but that’s not necessary for younger kids.
  3. Be sure and ask the question, “Why did God want these people from a foreign country to know about Baby Jesus?”  That will give you the opportunity to go back to John 3:16 – For God So Loved the World!

Both of these stories contain much more that is important and interesting for adults, but don’t be tempted to overuse them with children.  You can use the age-appropriate ideas and help them learn some of the most important truths ever revealed.

Music:

I have two recommendations for you:

Star Carol (by Hutson and Burt). It’s a modern carol, very simple, but beautiful. Simon and Garfunkel did a nice version, but one of the most elegantly simple renditions is sung by Anna Maria Alberghetti. Here is a link to Youtube if you would like to listen to it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPeG0fMqPvE .

Mary, Did You Know?  is another good, modern carol. There are lots of good versions, so search  ITunes or Youtube and pick the artist you like.

No Gift Compares is a beautiful carol written by my friend Gary Bruce. You can hear his performance of it at Oklahoma Christian a few days ago on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rMBnoRVgzY4 . One of the early recordings on YouTube actually has the words to it.

I can’t wait to hear how it goes with your kids!

Next: For the Third Advent Week, we will focus on the Journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem.

 

(Reposted from 2012)

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Vukovar watertower after the war

Vukovar watertower after the war

Today Sherrylee and I walked along the beautiful Danube River in a small town in Croatia you have never heard of called Vukovar. We ate at a local pizzeria, then because it was an unusually sunny, warm day, we decided to walk over to the war memorial cross, thinking this was probably another WWII memorial. Not true!

In 1991, the beautiful little town of Vukovar was demolished by shelling, leveled by bombing, and finally massacred as the first victim of the breakup of Yugoslavia after the death of Tito. Located just within the borders of Croatia, Vukovar had been home to a minority of Croatian Serbians. The Serbian minority was fearful of what their ancient enemies the Croats might do to them if Croatia became an independent state, so they called on Serbia to “liberate” them. Serbia saw this as an opportunity to gain new territory and to weaken, if not completely overrun, the new Croatian state.

And so the Serbs invaded Croatia, layed siege to Vukovar, and in August 1991, launched as many as 12,000 shells per day into the city. By November, the obliterated city surrendered, but even this did not bring an end to the horror. Croatian prisoners of war as well as approximately 300 hospital patients were taken out to a farm and shot, then buried in a mass grave. Then 31,000 Croatians were expelled from their homes, one more horrible case of ethnic cleansing—and not the last.

Not until 1998 did Vukovar regain its independence, and in 1999, Croatian refugees began coming back to their homes under the watch of UN peacekeepers. Today, the city is only about half the size it was in 1991, much less prosperous, and once again Croatians and Serbs are living in the same city—but not together!

The Croats and Serbs are segregated both legally and socially. Separate schools, separate neighborhoods, separate alphabets, even separate churches. The war memorials are all for Croatian victims, the parades and the holidays are Croatian, so the Croatian Serbs are at best marginalized and at worst hated.

Does this sound similar to the Russian/Ukranian conflict now? What about the plight of Israeli Palestinians? And then, of course, we know what happened in Rwanda– and the ongoing crisis in Sudan, and . . . does the story never end? Even the rising racial tension in the U.S. contains hateful elements of this story.

About six years ago, a couple of Croatian Christians moved by themselves to Vukovar to bring the Peace of Christ. They were not really trained church planters; rather, they just loved people both Croats and Serbs! They have not been successful in starting a church, but they have been very successful in creating a movement called Dolina Blagoslova, or The Valley of Blessings. They host special events, they host radio programs—even local cable-TV programs—promoting what is good, pure, wholesome, peaceful—yes, peaceful for both Croats and Serbs. Their goal is to win the hearts and minds of good people in Vukovar by doing what is good and thereby prepare the way for the Prince of Peace. The Valley of Blessing program is known by Croats and Serbs throughout the city as a peace movement and has built up a strong reputation.

In the last few months, the churches of Christ in Croatia have come along side this work and have agreed to provide new funds for a meeting place as well as the impetus and vision for expansion. We were invited there to bring the Let’s Start Talking program as a small part of this new impetus.

I was watching a documentary on the Ukrainian crisis the other night and amidst all the bullets and bombs, one young woman cries out, “After all these centuries, have we not learned a better way of settling our differences than killing each other?”

Our politicians want either to build walls or to show strength, neither of which sounds very Christ-like to me. I’m convinced that when the angels announced Peace on earth that the One they were announcing is the only way to peace. And in the very face of scourging, abuse, and executions, His words were of forgiveness, not of retaliation.

The hope for reconciliation in Vukovar is the same as the hope for peace in Ukraine or Sudan or Israel or Syria or . . . . Our sole hope is that the Prince of Peace is victorious.

And He is!

That is our only message.

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Romans-13Probably because of the flurry of recent candidacy announcements along with the terrifying thought of two years of presidential campaigning, but I’ve been involved in two or three challenging conversations/discussions in the last few days specifically on the role of Christians in the political process.

Last Sunday night, for instance, our small group met for a study of Romans 13, where Paul makes the following extremely challenging statements:

  • “Those who are in positions of power (authority) have been placed there (established) by God.” (v.1)
  • “So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished.” (v.2)
  • “The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good.” (v.4)
  • “Give respect and honor to those who are in authority.” (v.7)

As if that were not clear enough, he wrote similar things to Titus in Chapter 3:

 Remind the believers to submit to the government and its officers. They should be obedient, always ready to do what is good. They must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone.

Among whole rooms full of mature Christians, we did not have very much agreement on how to apply this Scripture.  Our questions began with the Bonhoeffer dilemma of whether as a Christian he had either godly permission to conspire to assassinate the maniacal head of Nazi Germany—or perhaps even the obligation—then we proceeded to the “right” to break the law and sit in the front of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama!

Some argued for differences if Christians live in a democratic society where resistance to authority is allowed within measure. But that exception only underlines questions about Christians in Communistic countries, monarchies, hegemonies, or even failed states with tribal warlords who exercise authority?

And do these Scriptures only apply on a national level? What about the state level, city level, employer level, family level?

Isn’t the real question, what is St. Paul really talking about?  I don’t have all the answers to these very difficult questions, but I do have some observations about a few things that seem pretty clear to me.

First, authority (government) is not a bad word! You may not like some particular form of government, but God has always organized His people, and they have always been required to submit to that authority—for their own good.  The earliest authorities were Moses and Aaron and those who rebelled against them were swallowed up by the earth itself (Numbers 16). After Joshua, God raised up judges (Judges 2:16) as the local officer of God among Israel.

Perhaps the worst moment in Jewish history is described at the end of the book of Judges, when the Holy Spirit records, In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25). (If this sounds good to you, you need to re-read the Old Testament.)

Secondly, God’s intent is that authority is used for the good of His people. Neither Jesus nor Paul nor any of the early Christians lived under governments that were benevolent to Christians. Quite the contrary, both Jesus and Paul lost their lives to “authorities” as did many Christians.  And the Old Testament is full of examples of God punishing nations (kings, generals, nations) for their unrighteousness—for abusing people rather than doing them good.

Thirdly, the larger context of both the passages in Romans and Titus is that Christians should act with love towards all and for the good of others. Look at all of the admonitions leading into the command to submit to governing authorities:

  • Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse! (12:14)
  • Live in harmony with one another. (12:16)
  • Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. (12:17)
  • If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (12:18)
  • Do not take revenge. (12:19)
  • If your enemy is hungry, feed him. (12:20)

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities.  Does it help you to read these sentences together instead of pausing because they are divided by a big chapter heading?

Paul runs the whole idea together in the Titus passage as well:  Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.

I don’t have all the answers to the biggest questions these passages raise, but I do think that I know what Jesus would say to American Christians heading into another season of presidential campaigning:

“Don’t slander anyone!  Be peaceable and considerate.  Be gentle toward everyone. Bless, and do not curse.”

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Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot—
    yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root.
And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
    the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
    the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
He will delight in obeying the Lord.
    He will not judge by appearance
    nor make a decision based on hearsay.
He will give justice to the poor
    and make fair decisions for the exploited.
The earth will shake at the force of his word,
    and one breath from his mouth will destroy the wicked.
He will wear righteousness like a belt
    and truth like an undergarment.

In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together;
    the leopard will lie down with the baby goat.
The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion,
    and a little child will lead them all.
The cow will graze near the bear.
    The cub and the calf will lie down together.
    The lion will eat hay like a cow.
The baby will play safely near the hole of a cobra.
    Yes, a little child will put its hand in a nest of deadly snakes without harm.
Nothing will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,
    for as the waters fill the sea,
    so the earth will be filled with people who know the Lord.

In that day the heir to David’s throne
    will be a banner of salvation to all the world.
The nations will rally to him,
    and the land where he lives will be a glorious place.

Nativity Interestingly, just about a month ago, I wrote about this passage in a blog entitled “The Story of A Dead Tree.” You might want to go back and read that today, although it was written more with the divisiveness of the November election in mind than the Advent.

On the other hand, Jesus was born into a world where Jews hated Gentiles, Jews hated Samaritans, Jews hated Romans, and everyone hated Jews.

He was born into a world where his own disciples wanted to call down fire from heaven on those who opposed Him.

He was born into a world where a ruler ordered all the boy babies killed to protect his throne.

He was born into a world where he and his parents became refugees in a foreign country for fear of their own lives.

He was born into a world where a friend would betray him for 30 pieces of silver.

He was born into a world where his cousin would be beheaded to please a dancing girl and her mother.

He was born into a world where the religious leaders tried to protect their own power by killing someone again whom Jesus had raised from the dead rather than acknowledging the miracle of his resurrection.

He was born into a world where most people just came for what they could get from him—like food or the thrill of seeing something miraculous—but who all abandoned him when he needed them.

He was born into a world of beggars, unclean lepers, self-righteous priests, hypocrite teachers of the law, second-class women, slaves, political oppressors, zealots, traitors, murderous politicians, extreme poverty, rampant divorce, abortion, perversion, pedophiles, famine, the occult, terrorists, false messiahs–a world much like ours.

And his birth set in motion the fulfillment of this prophecy of a peaceable kingdom  in Isaiah 11.

And someday, when justice is complete, when peace and harmony reign, and when every knee bows to confess that Jesus is Lord, “the land where He lives will be a glorious place.”

On this the last Sunday before Christmas, as you break bread and take the cup, remember the baby, the heir to David’s throne, who became the “banner of salvation to all the world.”

Come, Lord Jesus.

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“Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all to see.
    For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you.
Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth,
    but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you.
All nations will come to your light;
    mighty kings will come to see your radiance”  (Isaiah 60:1-3).

matchOne of my early memories is standing in the Big Room in Carlsbad Caverns when the guide turned out the lights to let you see—or better said—not see what total darkness is really like. You can move your hand in front of your face and see not a hint of . . . anything. The darkness made me afraid! And it froze me! I couldn’t move—because you could not see—anything!

I wonder if they still do this or if some government entity has stopped this practice for safety reasons?  It wasn’t safe, it wasn’t pleasant, it wasn’t good to be in total darkness.

The guide kept talking as the lights were off, and it seemed like forever, but he did not leave us in total darkness very long.  Rather quickly he lit a normal kitchen match–and the transformation was amazing and complete.

That one little match threw enough light into this huge cavernous room to see!  I could see other people; I could see a direction to walk if I needed to; I could see my hand now.  Much I couldn’t see, but I could see enough to feel much better!

That match only burned for a few seconds. Then he switched on his flashlight, making a bigger and more sustained light, but nothing compared to that glorious moment when he turned on the big switch and lit up the whole cavern again.  I remember a sense of relief:  now I can move again!

“Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth.”  You remember from Genesis 1 that God spoke a word and created light to overcome the darkness. But then something terrible happened: “God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil” (John 3:19).  The world became dark again by its own choice this time. We turned off the light, but could not turn it on again.

As that small match in the caverns banished darkness—but not completely—so Noah and Moses and Isaiah—even the nation of Israel—were small matches of light in the darkness, all offering hope of the full light.

Then God turned the big light on. “The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone”(John 1:4).  The Enemy thought he could blow out the Light on the cross. The Light was hidden three days in the tomb, but then the Light came back on in our world and will never be put out again: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it” (John 1:5).

Sure, there are corners of darkness still left in the world, corners where evil likes to live, but when God comes again, there will be no more darkness.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus apparently was born in the middle of the night?  Or why a star led the way instead of a fiery cloud or something more spectacular?  Have you ever wondered why the angels appeared in the night sky to the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus to the world?

Jesus was born in the middle of the dark night to dispel the darkness! Jesus was born in the night to dispel your darkness and mine! He is the Light of the world!

That’s the Good News and why we can be so happy at Advent!

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