Our Jesse tree symbols and readings for Advent

Day 1: God's creation. (This decoration reminded us of the planets around the sun)

As we seek to focus our family on the true meaning of Christmas, we have been taking deliberate steps to create yearly Christmas traditions and memories. I have finally finished all the symbols and readings for our Jesse tree for Advent this year. The children have been involved in searching for and choosing the symbols for each day (some alternative ideas here.) Most were found in discount variety stores, some were gathered from around the house and we even made a couple. I spray-painted them all gold to keep a constant theme (and just to look nice!) and it was amazing how good even the cheap plastic animals look with a coat of gold. The readings we chose came from some of the many online choices available (links at the bottom of this post about Jesse trees.)

Bible reading scrolls

I have typed up the bible readings, printed them out onto thin card and hot glue gunned on thin craft sticks to make scrolls. Each one has a small circle of ribbon to hold it closed that can be slipped off to read the scroll. Each night the children will take it in turns to open the scroll and unwrap each symbol after the reading. (I thought wrapping the symbols would make it even more exciting and they could guess what symbol would represent the readings we had heard before seeing what it was.)

Day 2 Adam and Eve (The forbidden fruit)

Day 3 Noah's ark (birds sent out 3 times to find dry land) There are lots of bird decorations out this year so these were easy to find.

Day 4 Abram (descendants as many as the stars)

Day 5 Isaac (ram as sacrifice) This is just a plastic ram sprayed gold but it looks great!

Day 6 Jacob's ladder (This ladder came from a bird cage set.)

Day 7 Joseph (Sold for 30 pieces of silver into slavery)

Day 8 Moses (in basket) This miniature frame had what looked like reeds around the edge.

Day 9 The 10 commandments (Not quite a stone tablet but as close as we could get.)

Day 10 Joshua (The battle of Jericho) This was a cheap plastic tower with a plastic knight to build inside. We used the knight's shield and sword for Gideon so 2 for the price of one!

Day 11 Gideon (A sword for the Lord and for Gideon)

Day 12 Samuel (His Mother takes him a little coat each year) My least favourite decoration - fabric does not spray-paint well.

Day 13 David (5 stones for Goliath)

Day 14 Elijah (fed by the ravens)

Day 15 Hezekiah (empty enemy tent)

Day 16 Isaiah (Tongs and hot coal)

Day 17 Jeremiah (Known as the weeping prophet) Made of salt dough.

Day 18 Habakkuk (His watchtower) Already dropped and broken and we haven't even got it on the tree yet!! More salt dough.

Day 19 Nehemiah (Rebuilding the city wall) A previously useless gate from a plastic doll's house - perfect for this.

Day 20 John (baptizing in the river) Think laterally!

Day 21 Mary & Elizabeth (Messenger angel) It's impossible to find male angels!

Day 22 Zechariah (Tablet and stylus) The modern day version.

Day 23 Joseph (Loves and marries Mary) The rings are wedding favours that come in bags of 50.

Day 24 Magi (3 Wise Men's gifts to Jesus)

Day 25 Jesus' birth (Star of Bethlehem) There are 2 readings and 2 symbols today - the second symbol is tree lights which are turned on to represent the light of Jesus now shining in the world.

The Sorting Out Prayer (Sibling conflict)

Product: Parents Arise Image

After using the “Children Arise” CD’s with my children for circle time I was interested in reading the story of how they came about in “Parents Arise” by Janine Target. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and recommend having a look. (Here at Koorong or here at Growing Families) With the author’s permission, I am reproducing below just one of the ideas she presented in her book and I think it was worth purchasing it for this alone.

We have always had our children apologise (say “sorry”) for mistakes and accidents and ask for forgiveness for deliberate sins (acts of unkindness etc.) They are required to reconcile by making eye contact, naming the specific sin, asking for forgiveness (I’m sorry I spoke unkindly to you, will you forgive me?) and then hugging the offended person. (There is just something about physical contact that melts hearts and helps siblings to reconcile. Older children, especially boys, are required to shake hands.)

Once they have worked through this process, they spend some time praying about it and asking for God’s forgiveness and help for future events. Janine’s sorting out prayer takes this part of the process a couple of vital steps further and I will be introducing it as part of our family pattern for making things right with God and between family members from now on.

Here it is as it appears on page 102 of her book:

The Sorting Out Prayer

1. I forgive ……….. for…………

(Matthew 6:14,15)

2. Dear God please forgive ……….. for ………….

(Luke 23:34)

3. Please forgive me for getting angry.

(1 John 1:9)

4. Please take all the anger and upset out of me.

(1 John 1:9)

5. Please bless ………

(Luke 6:27, 28)

In Janine’s words; “It keeps us free from resentment, kept our forgiveness up to date, and it helped create an environment for strong and healthy emotional growth in each of our children.”

Family Devotions with Joel Beeke

I highly recommend listening to Joel Beeke (here) as he speaks at the Conference for Pastors on Family Worship. He gives a simple yet profound message on the importance of family worship (family devotions/bible study time) with tips on how to go about doing it successfully. I think most Christians would agree that having time together as a family to study God’s word is important, but many find it difficult to know how or where to start. This talk may be what you need to get you equipped and off and running as you seek to lead your family to Christ.

Christmas traditions: Jesse tree symbols


As we continue to get organised for the advent season, I have put together a list of the items I want to collect for our Jesse tree this year. There are many different versions of the traditional readings (bible verses) for each day of December and the key characters to be included on the Jesse tree. The list below contains the ones we are focussing on this year and next year we will add completely different symbols, representing over time as many different parts of the bible as possible. I may end up swapping out a couple of these bible characters for others if I have trouble finding a suitable symbol.

Down the left are the “characters” and in brackets to the right are possible symbols for each. Readings can be found on so many different websites, I haven’t listed them here but I did include some links on my last Jesse tree post.

  • God (sun, Earth)
  • Adam & Eve (apple)
  • Noah (ark, dove, rainbow)
  • Abraham (tent, stars, camel)
  • Isaac (stick bundle, ram)
  • Jacob (ladder)
  • Joseph (coat, sack of grain)
  • Moses (burning bush, baby in basket, reeds)
  • Israelites (lamb)
  • God (10 commandments stone tablets)
  • Joshua (ram horn)
  • Gideon (clay pitcher, sword)
  • Samuel (crown, lamp)
  • David (shepherd’s crook, harp, 6 pointed star of David, sling shot)
  • Elijah (alter, raven)
  • Hezekiah (tent)
  • Isaiah (tongs, hot coal, scroll)
  • Jeremiah (tears, hand)
  • Habakkuk (watch tower)
  • Nehemiah (city wall, trowel)
  • John the Baptist (shell, fish)
  • Mary (white lily, letter M)
  • Elizabeth (Mother & child, letter E)
  • Zechariah (stylus & tablet)
  • Joseph (hammer, saw)
  • Magi (star, 3 gifts, 3 crowns)
  • Jesus (manger, star)
  • Christ (chi-rho symbol)

Christian families and Father Christmas

The children love to play with this nativity scene. In case you are wondering, baby Jesus is up in the hay loft.

I must admit, I hesitate to write this post knowing that many readers will disagree and perhaps even be offended. I apologise in advance to anyone who is offended but think that the topic is important enough to broach. I hope you will approach what I have to say with an open mind and make your own judgements based on biblical understanding and after prayerful consideration.

With Christmas decorations hitting the shops, I have turned my thoughts towards this year’s Christmas celebrations and plans. Is it possible to celebrate Christmas with Father Christmas or Santa Clause and still be honouring to God? Can we participate in all the pretend and story telling that goes along with it without lying to our children? How can it be ok to deliberately lead our children to believe that something is true when it clearly is not? The bible tells us that God is truth and Satan is the Father of lies. (John 8:44) Is it all just harmless pretend and imagination, or has it gone one step further than that?

We teach our children that being truthful and honest at all times is right and pleases God and tell them that pretending is fine as long as others know you are pretending. If our children report an event or happening to us that is not true, without making it clear that they are “telling us a story” or “pretending,” we treat this as lying and give appropriate consequences. I can’t reconcile that standard with telling them the traditional Santa tales, knowing that they fully believe every word of it to be true.

Why do many of us celebrate Christmas with the Father Christmas myths as a central part? For most of us, we grew up with it and loved every minute and our families (parents and extended family) may be upset if we decided to make a change. Many also seem to think that their children will miss out on the “magic” of Christmas. Some say they grew up with Santa and are still Christians so therefore there is no harm at all in doing it with their own children.

We are living in a time when reportedly up to 80% of those making decisions for Jesus walk away from the church or “backslide” as we often term it. Why take the chance with anything at all that could potentially harm our children’s faith?

We all know there will come a time when children will work out for themselves that Father Christmas isn’t real, but after years of hearing from trusted parents that he is real (and often that the Easter bunny and tooth fairy are also real), is the next step to question whether Jesus is real or just another pretend that Mum and Dad have told over the years?

At this time of year it’s hard to steer clear of the commercialism of Christmas and keep the focus on celebrating Jesus’ birth where it should be, without adding reindeer stories and Father Christmas into the mix.

We feel that we can still make Christmas a wonder-filled time of joy and fun without involving Father Christmas at all. We do give gifts, but the focus is on celebrating Jesus’ birthday and the tradition of gift giving started by the wise men at Christ’s birth. We have a tree, but it is a Jesse tree with the symbols on it related to bible stories. We spend time together making decorations and dressing the tree, eating special Christmas treats and listening to joyful Christian Christmas music. We have an advent wreath with candles to light as we read Christmas devotions and other special Christmas stories set aside for just this time of year. We cook together, hold family get-togethers, feasts and invite special visitors and are endeavouring to build many other Christmas traditions to knit us together as a family.

Our children love Christmas and look forward to it with as much joy, anticipation and excitement as I think I ever did and we can have the peace of mind and clear conscience of knowing that we are striving to teach them to love God with all of their mind, soul and strength and endeavouring not to steer their hearts and affections away from God in any way. Just because something is traditional, cultural, I personally grew up with it and society promotes it doesn’t mean it is right.

We do teach our children the legend of Saint Nicholas and some of the possible origins of the Father Christmas tales. We also teach them that children from other families believe Father Christmas is true and it is not for them to tell them otherwise.

I encourage you to think the issue through, talk it over with your spouse, pray about it, read your bible and come to a decision for your family that is Godly and right.

Hell’s Best Kept Secret

We have fairly recently come across the teaching of Ray Comfort. He is a preacher and evangelist with a strong message that no Christian should miss. “Hell’s Best Kept Secret” and “True and False Conversion” are both available for free download here. With information pertinent to any believer (or non-believer) and vital for us as parents seeking to prepare our children’s hearts for salvation, this message explains why around 80% to 90% of those making a decision for Christ fall away from the faith. Don’t let your children or loved ones miss out on this vital teaching. The book “Hell’s best kept secret” is available here.

Recommended Resources

Here are a couple of my favourite Christian resources for family devotions, circle time or for simply reading through with children.

The Lamb by John Cross is an amazing resource. It begins with creation and covers the gospel message in a clear and concise form that is easy for children to understand. Each chapter has beautiful, full colour illustrations and summary questions at the end to check for understanding and stimulate discussion. The book comes with an audio CD so children can listen to the story as many times as they like and follow along with the illustrations in the book.

It helps children to comprehend Jesus’ death and resurrection and shows the connection between the old testament sacrificial lamb and Jesus as the Lamb of God. It is aimed at 5 and up, however my children have read through it with me from the age of 3 and it has really helped their understanding of salvation and what it means to them.

The book is a large hardback and is beautifully presented; it makes a lovely gift. It is not available online in Australia but can be ordered from the Goodseed office on 1800 897 333 for a very reasonable price. Cartons of 16 can be purchased for a good discount.

Big Truths for Little Kids

Big Truths For Little Children by Susan and Richie Hunt works through the questions from the children’s catechism. It breaks the questions into small groups and follows each group with a related story about Caleb and Cassie that incorporates the truths from the catechism. We have been working on memorizing the Westminster Children’s Catechism for a while now and my children loved these stories. Our only problem was that they wanted to keep reading the next story before they could remember the answers to the questions! I think it is vital for all children to know exactly what it is they believe and the catechism is an excellent way to ensure that their understanding is thorough.  Even if the answers are a little above them, they can still remember them and grow into full understanding as they mature. My 3 1/2 year old knows the first 30 or 40 questions now and the others are further along, so start early while they are sponges just waiting to soak up knowledge.

Training Hearts, Teaching Minds: Family Devotions Based on the Shorter Catechism

Training Hearts Teaching Minds by Starr Meade follows the Westminster Shorter Catechism (adult not children’s version). It is an excellent follow-on from the children’s catechism as it contains a similar flow of questions with much more detailed answers. The book follows each catechism question with 6 days of family devotions – short readings with bible references related to the catechism question. With each question studied for one week and reviewed on Sunday, it will take about 2 years to complete the entire catechism. Quite doable! We started with this but decided to do the children’s catechism first as our youngest was struggling to remember the longer answers. Our 6 year old plus could cope with it with a stretch but I want circle time to include everyone so we have put it on hold for now and will go back to it later.

Our 24 Family Ways (2010)

Our 24 Family Ways  by Clay Clarkson is another wonderful resources for family devotions. It includes 24 biblical values based “Family ways” with scripture memory passage, character quality definition and 5 devotions for each. The latest version includes colouring in pages for each family way and other than copying the colouring in if you are using it and finding a bible, no other preparation or materials are necessary.

A Child's Book of Character Building

A Child’s Book of Character Building  by R & R Coriell includes 12 different character qualities with a story to illustrate each; from the bible, at school, at home and at play. Each character has a definition and bible verse and the stories are such that the children can identify with the characters and situations. Easy reading and short enough for even the youngest listeners if one story is covered each day.


Circle Time

I came across the concept of circle time through a homeschooling friend who directed me to Kendra Fletcher’s blog Preschoolers and Peace. I purchased her e-book about circle time and found it full of great ideas and well worth the $6.99 I paid for it.

The basic idea of circle time in our family is starting the day with God as our priority and focus, before the business of everything else that we do crowds in and takes our attention away from where it should be. It ensures that we all (apart from Dad who has left for work at this time) spend some time together before we split up to begin our “school” subjects for the day.

Circle time is not the same as family devotions (Dad does that in the evenings) and although everything we do at this time links to the bible in some way, it is not necessarily a bible study time.

Circle time can be used for a huge variety of things with memorization and character based activities a focus for us. I love the idea of praying together, memorizing scripture together, teaching the children good character etc. but find that these areas tend to get neglected if I am not intentional about it.

At the moment we start our time with some scripture memorization through song, followed by a character story, catechism story or one of our other great resources (I will post a list of more of my favourite resources soon) and finish off with a prayer time together.

The children really enjoy the time and it makes for a positive start to the day. I should say that the twins have playpen time while we do circle time as they are not yet at a point where they can sit and concentrate for the half hour unless there are two adults to hold one each. I am good at multi-tasking but managing two wriggling toddlers and running circle time is a little beyond my current abilities! We practise sitting and listening skills with them during family devotions in the evening instead.

Children Arise CD Volume 2

The Children Arise CD’s are scriptures set to music. They are very professionally done with catchy tunes that you find yourself humming through the day and don’t actually mind! I play the same verse each day for a week and at the end of the week the children receive a certificate if they have memorized the scripture. Even my 3 1/2 year old remembers the verses this way and they all love having a record of what they have achieved through the certificates, with each one having the verse printed on it.

9781605771342

We are reading through the “Help Me Be Good Series” by Joy Berry and the children love them. We talk a lot about each page and how we can apply the positive character traits in our lives with each other.

We are half way through “The Way of the Master For Kids: Teaching Kids How To Share Their Faith” by Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron. Their adult materials and free sermons are great and we are enjoying this book with their signature message written for kids. The book has three age sections, starting with the very young and moving up, but the younger kids are having no trouble at all understanding the sections that are written for the older children.

The Way of the Master for Kids: Teaching Kids How to Share Their Faith

More Duplo Bible Charades

We have been swapping Duplo bible charades photos with family and the children have enjoyed figuring out their cousin’s creations. Here are a couple more of ours (made by adults and a 6 and 8 year old without assistance) for you to guess. Answers are at the bottom of the page – we are trying to make it a little harder so some are more obscure than others! If you have Duplo or Lego at home, give it a go. It’s a fun game the whole family will love. Our 3 1/2 year old did make her own creation; however as it doesn’t relate in any way whatsoever to the bible, we didn’t include it here! Instructions on how to play are here.

 

Adam and Eve being tempted in the garden

People lined up to speak with the prophet Debra

Noah and the rainbow

Daniel and the lions’ den

The tower of Babel

Camel going through the eye of a needle

Wise and foolish builders – house on rock and sand

Jacob’s ladder

Queen of Sheba coming to see Solomon

The marble jar is full!

342 regular marbles and 36 tom-bowlers have been earned and the marble jar is finally full. Our marble jar has been going for about 3 months (it’s bigger than it looks!) and has helped to change the unkind tone that had been developing around here. We put it in place as a reward system for kind and unselfish behaviour. Whenever a child displayed the kind of behaviour we wanted to promote and was noticed by a parent or sibling doing so, the behaviour was rewarded with a marble in the marble jar. Particularly outstanding acts of kindness received tom-bowlers. When the marble jar was full, a whole family reward is given.

Before I continue; a quick aside. There is a difference between bribes, rewards and goal incentives. A bribe is offered BEFORE a BEHAVIOUR is demonstrated and is used to “buy” the child’s cooperation and display of the behaviour you are bribing them to get. A reward is given AFTER a BEHAVIOUR is displayed and is not previously discussed – it comes as a pleasant surprise to the child after the fact. A goal incentive is offered BEFORE a SKILL is mastered (not for behaviours) and is received by the child after they have mastered the particular skill.

Here is an example of each:

“If you are good in the shops today, Mummy will buy you a lollipop.” (Bribe)

“You showed such diligence earlier today when you helped Mummy clean out the pantry; let’s go and have a treat.” (Reward)

“When you learn all of your catechism questions, Mummy and Daddy are going to buy you a new bible.” (Goal incentive.)

Obviously bribing our children to get the behaviour we want from them is not a helpful parenting strategy and will not improve a child’s character. It does in fact promote a selfish attitude and teaches the child that it is only worth displaying good character when the bribe is big enough. Practically speaking, they are difficult to maintain because the bribe the child expects will generally need to get bigger and bigger to keep their cooperation.

Now, back to marble jars. These operate as a reward for kind behaviour that has already been displayed. The child who is acting in a kind way is not allowed to report their own good behaviour, it must be noticed by others. Obviously to begin with, while the marbles are very fresh in their mind, there is a lot of kind behaviour that is happening only for the promised reward. Because of that, it does in some ways operate as a bribe for a couple of days. It isn’t long however before the initial interest wears off and the marbles are forgotten about. It is then that the true reward part of the system kicks in as behaviours that are naturally being shown without thought of reward are reinforced with the nice surprise of a marble.

One of the biggest challenges when trying to change the “tone” of sibling interaction is to get it lifted out of the negative and niggling mode it has sunk into and into a positive and building-up tone where we want it. Once the positive tone is reached, it is a lot easier to keep it there. The marble jar gives a quick method of changing the tone (yes, in a “fake” sort of way for the first little while) but once lifted, it can be kept there and become a more natural expression of “how we treat each other in this family.”

Oh, in case you were wondering, the reward was a trip to Sizzlers for dinner. It was thoroughly enjoyed and the children have now been introduced to the joys of the ‘all you can eat’ dessert bar and never ending drink refills!

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