Children who stand strong in their faith: Walking against the crowd

One of the topics raised amongst our GEMS leaders a little while back was how to go about raising children who are able to stand strong in their faith even when no-one else is walking with them and they are away from the sheltering influence of their parents and family. How do we prepare them to be in the world but not of the world; to be able to choose the narrow path and walk against the flow? (Even if that means standing alone because “every one else is doing it!”)

I believe the key is that our children must develop their own genuine saving faith and not be relying on ours to carry them through. They must have the Holy Spirit as their strength and their own conviction to stand on God’s word and to follow His commandments and statutes. Our teaching as parents must be overt, deliberate, ongoing, free from hypocrisy, giving a good role model and above all, reaching the heart of our children. Our teaching will be molding the external behavior of our children, but this must transition to heart knowledge, to the child internalizing the beliefs for themselves. We can only do so much here and pray that God will do the rest. In the end, when a difficult test comes, only if our children have chosen God and His ways for themselves will they make the difficult decisions and stand alone if necessary, because otherwise they simply will not want to!

Dads should be leading their family spiritually. There are many ways to do this, including holding family devotions, leading world view discussions on current affairs, discussing what they believe and why and relating that back to the bible. Be deliberate in teaching the bible, memorizing scripture, training character, reading inspiring books with a message and praying together. Soak your children in the beliefs, understandings and world view you want them to have well before a time of testing will come. Decisions made ahead of time without the emotions and pressure of the heat of the moment, decisions that have been discussed, thought through, prayed over and become an internalized way of life will not be overturned quickly. We all can think of actions and decisions made in the heat of the moment that we wish we could change and would have done differently had we previously thought through the issues involved.

You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

(Deuteronomy 6:7 ESV)

We need to keep the lines of communication open; talking about everything. Make time alone to share, bond and discuss those innermost thoughts and feelings. Work to surround your children with peers who are being raised with similar convictions, standards and beliefs. Two or more standing together is so much easier than one standing alone. Foster a close relationship. Fill their love tanks. A child who knows that they are unconditionally loved by their families will have an extra inner reserve of strength to stand firm. A needy, empty child will turn to those who fulfill those needs that are not being met at home.

Certain personalities will be more naturally able to take a leadership role and less likely to blindly follow the crowd. All of us need to be able to make the hard decisions though and learn not to follow when the leaders are leading in the wrong direction. Teach your children about personality types and love languages. Help them to identify their own strengths and weaknesses and areas that they will have to be particularly vigilant in. Help to identify why they feel the way they do and to be able to be objective about their decision making.

Guard your child’s ear and eye gate. Give them excellent literature to read that portrays great role models and biblical worldview; do not pollute their innocence with worldly ideas through literature, magazines or on screen. Choose television programmes very carefully or better still get rid of the T.V. completely. The more exposure to non-biblical thinking we give our children the more they will be subtly bought into the idea of the world’s norms and tend to adapt them as their own. Slow attitude change is often hardly noticeable but Hollywood has its own agenda and it shouldn’t fit with ours as Christians. If the role models they are watching and listening to are “doing it” then children are being nudged in that direction and may begin to normalize non-biblical behaviour and accept it as ok.

Shield your child by not putting them into situations that will likely test them before they are ready to handle it. Be aware of the scenarios faced at sleep-overs, parties, weekends away and the like. I had good friends who were fairly like-minded, with careful parents. It was only through the grace of God however that I came through the parties, sleepovers and get-togethers we attended relatively unscathed. I’m sure my parents would have been horrified to know what went on at some of the places we went to – even those with so-called responsible adults in attendance!

Substitute inappropriate situations with alternatives if there are such available. For example, the end of year 11 was a time to go away camping with all the highschoolers and a time of drinking, partying and a lot of other things we don’t need to list. There was no way my parents were prepared to let me go away unchaperoned and luckily for me many of my friends’ parents felt the same way. My Mother volunteered to take us all camping and attended as the supervising adult (much to my embarrassment at the time.) She did turn out to be remarkably “cool” and as it was this or nothing everyone came and we had a great time together.

There are no easy answers and no quick fixes. Equipping our children to stand strong on their convictions is a process and we build on to that equipping every day for years.

  [9] And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

(Galatians 6:9 ESV)

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

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