Where do your children find their identity?

cowboy dress-ups IMG_8487

We have recently returned from a Growing Families Australia family camp. It was a fun-filled weekend, with activities for the kids, time for fellowship with other like-minded families and sessions for the parents with Norm Wakefield from Elijah Ministries. Norm is a gifted communicator and presented a series of powerful messages for parents (Fathers in particular) across the weekend.

His message on finding our identity is one that we should all be aware of. To find out where we get our identity from, he asks 5 pointed questions:

  1. Who is your power source?
  2. To whom do you look for happiness?
  3. To whom are you connected/belong to?
  4. Who do you imitate in order to connect?
  5. Who is your God?

Is the answer to these questions your husband? wife? friends? children? yourself? God?

What about if we ask ourselves the same questions, but this time with our children in mind. Who are they looking to for their identity? Is it their peers? workmates? boyfriend or girlfriend? themselves? us as their parents? God?

Norm points out that whoever offers the most hope of happiness and identity will have their heart. Whoever has their heart has the most influence. Parents, if you don’t offer your children the most hope and point them to finding God as the only true source of identity, your children will look elsewhere for it.

Scary thought isn’t it? Who has your children’s hearts?

If you would like to know more about how to keep your children’s hearts, I  recommend reading “Family Driven Faith” by Voddie Baucham and “Keeping Our Children’s Hearts” by Terri Maxwell. Taking a Christian parenting class would also be a wise step in the right direction.

Our “Names of Jesus” Jesse Tree

Bible reading scrolls to go with each name of Jesus.

Bible reading scrolls to go with each name of Jesus.

If you are looking for different ideas for a Christmas Jesse tree, family devotions, family alter, bible study or daily circle time, then studying some of the many names of Jesus with your children can be a great learning experience.

You can make it as simple or elaborate as you like. We used this idea for our Christmas Jesse tree this year so I prepared everything ahead of time; including printing out the bible readings and making small scrolls with them (see photo above) and making or buying a symbol for each name of Jesus and wrapping them all individually.

Wrapped Jesse tree symbols

Wrapped Jesse tree symbols

Each morning during our family circle time, one child found the bible reading scroll of the day and wrapped symbol. As we read through the verses, everyone listened carefully and raised their hand as soon as they heard a name of Jesus. (Some readings had more than one in them.) After finishing the scroll they guessed which name we were looking at today and what the symbol could be, briefly discussed what that means to us or what it teaches us about Jesus and then opened the symbol to hang onto the Jesse tree.

The names, symbols and bible readings that we used are photographed below. A few of the readings do not have the name in them directly, but add related information and there are probably many more that could be added.

J tree 1st born

1. Firstborn of every creature (Colossians 1:15-20 1 Corinthians 3:9-15 ESV) {This is supposed to be a race ribbon for first place. A plastic trophy or medal would work well.}

Alpha and Omega

2. Alpha and Omega (Revelation 1:7-8 Revelation 1:12-18 Revelation 21:5-7 Revelation 22:12-14 ESV) {These are swizzle sticks – just an interesting way to display the A and Z as the English equivalent of alpha and omega.}

Mighty Warrior

3. Mighty God (Isaiah 9:6 Isaiah 63:1 Deuteronomy 10:17 Job 36:5 ESV) {Popsicle sticks shaped and glued to make a sword.}

Everlasting Father

4. Everlasting Father (Isaiah 9:6 Hebrews 1:8-12 ESV) {This is our earthly Father}

Prince of Peace
5. Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6 Ephesians 2:13-17 ESV) {Peace Christmas decoration.}

Unspeakable Gift
6. Unspeakable Gift (2 Corinthians 9:10-15 John 4:7-10 ESV) {Another Christmas decoration.}

Lamb of God

7. Lamb of God (John 1:29-36 Hebrews 7:27 1 Peter 1:14-19 Revelation 5:6-14 ESV) {Plastic lamb.}

Shepherd

8. Good Shepherd  (Psalm 23 Matthew 2:5-6 John 10:1-18 Revelation 7:17 ESV) {This is the corner piece from a metal coat hanger – a small tent peg would work just as well.}

Jesus is born Bethlehem star

9. Bright and Morning Star (Revelation 22:14-17 2 Peter 1:17-19 ESV) {Our usual tree topper}

Anointed One

10. The Christ/Anointed One/ Messiah (Matthew 16:13-17 Acts 4:25-28 Acts 10:37-38 ESV) {We thought this ornament looked like a jar of anointing oil.}

Holy

11. Holy One (Mark 1:21-26 Acts 3:11-16 ESV) {The music is the hymn Holy Holy Holy. I googled images for “holy holy holy” and several choices came up. I just dropped it into a word document so I could size it to fit the music note ornament.}

Light of the World

12. Light of the World (Revelation 21:22-27 John 8:12 John 12:35-36 ESV) {They give these battery operated candles out every year at carols in the park events.}

The Word
13. The Word and Wonderful Counsellor (John 1:1-5 Revelation 19:11-13 Isaiah 9:6 ESV) {This is a dolls house miniature. I had to buy this online and it was a little expensive but we all love it. It actually has the new testament printed inside and you can read it with a magnifying glass.}

Servant

14. Servant (Matthew 12:17-18 Mark 10:43-45 Acts 3:26 Philippians 2:3-11 ESV) {Small craft wooden dowels with ricrac hot glued onto one and wool on the other- a servant’s tools.}

King of Kings

15. King of Kings Lord of Lords (Isaiah 33:22 Zechariah 9:9 Zechariah 14:16 Revelation 19:11-16 ESV) {This came off a broken Princess headband.}

The Vine
16. Vine (John 15:1-11 ESV) {A regular Christmas ornament.}

Lilly

17A. Lily of the Valley (Song of Solomon 2:1 ESV) {An artificial lily flower.} We did two symbols today because there is only one small reading for the lily.

The Door

17B Door [of the sheepfold] (John 10:7-10 John 14:6-7 Psalm 118:19-21 ESV) {These craft sticks came with the small dowels I used for the scrolls. Regular popsicle sticks would do nicely.}

Friend

18. Friend (Matthew 11:16-19 James 4:4 ESV) {We talk about their siblings being their best friends regularly.}

Saviour

19. Saviour (Luke 2:8-14 John 3:16 Acts 4:12 John 4:39-42 Hebrews 7:27 ESV) {Another regular ornament.}

Ancient of Days

20. Ancient of Days (Psalm 102:25-27 Daniel 7:9-10 ESV) {An old broken watch.}

Branch/Stump/Root of Jesse

21. Branch/Flower of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1-2 Jeremiah 23:5-6 Romans 15:12-13 ESV) {A twig from the backyard.}

The Rock

22. Rock & Cornerstone (Psalm 62:5-7 Ephesians 2:18-22 ESV) {Another backyard find in a bag so we can hang it.}

Lion of Judah
23. Lion of Judah (Revelation 5:1-5 ESV) {This is actually a plastic tiger and the children keep insisting you can tell the difference!}

Faithful and True (The reading talks about Jesus returning on a white horse)

24. Faithful and True (Revelation 3:14-16 Revelation 19:11-12 ESV) {This verse talks about Jesus riding on a white horse.}

Baby

25. Baby/Son of God/Son of Man (Luke 2:8-18 ESV) {From last year – a cross-stitch of Jesus in the manger.}

Other posts you may like:

Our Jesse Tree (traditional style)

Advent and Christmas traditions

Christian families and Father Christmas

 

Scripture memorisation

Most Christians understand the importance of memorising scripture; of writing God’s word on our hearts so that we may be able to live by it on a day by day basis. Those occasions where a scripture just pops into our heads when we are caught up in a situation, giving us a warning or guidance that is needed in the moment, are unlikely to happen if we have nothing stored up in our memory for just such an occasion. The same applies to helping our children memorise bible verses.

There are so many ways to go about teaching our little ones how to remember bible verses, the benefit to us being that as we do it together with them we are storing up scripture in our own memories as well. We have tried a few different methods along the way, some of which I’ll outline for you below.

Our favourite system so far (and the one we are using at the moment) is scripture set to song. We start a new verse each Monday during circle time and find that by Friday even our youngest participant (4 years) has easily memorised the song and therefore the scripture passage. There are a few resources around for this but we like the Children Arise CD Series. The music is professionally produced, with children’s’ voices and catchy tunes. They also stay true to the scripture, pretty much singing straight through word for word rather than altering and manipulating the bible verses to fit the music as some other resources do.

Another system we like is the Scripture box from Simply Charlotte Mason. Scriptures are stored on index cards in a simple flip box system and read through on a daily basis until all family members are able to recite the verse. The system details how to cycle through and review verses already memorised and is simple to set up and use.

We have a large white board on the wall near our dining room table and we have written verses we are working on up here. We have redeemed those wasted moments when children tend to lose control while waiting for the meal to arrive at the table by reciting the verses we are working on.

Another great place to pin scriptures that you want children to remember is on the bathroom mirror (you can even write it on in permanent marker and remove once it is well-known) or on the back of the toilet door. When there’s nothing else to do it’s amazing how many times your eyes will travel back over whatever is in front of them.

Pin verses around and about the house anywhere that they are likely to be noticed and read. Above the washing machine to glance through when throwing a load on, above the kitchen sink to contemplate while doing the dishes, above the computer keyboard or any other place you or the children will likely have a spare mental moment to read through and commit to memory.

Reciting verses as part of family devotions can also be very rewarding. Perhaps children who have memorised their verses with Mum can have the thrill of reciting to Dad what they have learnt. I have printed up certificates with the bible verses on them for each child to place into their own keepsake box or pin up on their pinboard as a small reward for learning each one.

However you decide to do it, it’s not as hard as you think once you get going. For me, I need to get a whole bunch prepared ahead of time so that there is no day-to-day planning involved, otherwise it just didn’t happen. You may like to choose scriptures on a day by day basis that are related to character or behavioural issues you are currently dealing with. Which ever way works for you, choose one and get started!

Family devotions

In my last post I mentioned that it is the Father’s role to lead his family spiritually. In many families this role has been handed over to the church, Sunday school, Christian school or sometimes Mum. While spiritual input from all of these areas can be very beneficial, it is primarily the Father’s responsibility. One tangible way that Dad can take hold of this role is by leading his family in daily devotions (sometimes known as family alter or bible study time.)

WHAT ARE FAMILY DEVOTIONS?

  • Regular bible study with the whole family. This time can also include worship (in the form of singing), prayer, and possibly catechism and scripture memorization. Catechism and scripture memorization are both important, however some families do them separately at other times throughout the day.

WHY SHOULD WE DO IT?

  • In short – God tells us to! It is not enough to take our children to church and youth group and hope for the best. We must disciple our children, teaching them in our homes, with the Father as the primary lead in this area.
  • We become the prime spiritual influence in the lives of our children – it allows us to shepherd our children’s hearts; preparing their hearts for the gospel and salvation, building their faith and strengthening a biblical worldview.
  • Worshiping and communicating with God is vital for the whole family, not just Mum and Dad.
  • It promotes personal spiritual growth, helping us (and our family) to learn the bible, it’s doctrines and teachings in order that we know what we believe and why. If our children do not know God’s word they will be unable to honour, respect and live by it. Children need to learn that the bible tells us what to do and gives us insight for daily life; that it is relevant to them and their everyday situations. As families study together, parents can weed out errors in belief and misunderstandings
  • Worshiping and studying God’s word together builds family unity, strengthening and building healthy family relationships.

HOW DO WE DO IT?

  • The “how” of family devotions changes with each family’s unique situation, time constraints, ages of children and a myriad of other factors. Find a way that works for you and do it – regularly!
  • Decide where; Lounge chairs, around the dining table, on the end of beds, sprawled on the lounge room floor…
  • Decide when; As soon as the family is awake, immediately before or after a meal, after dinner clean-up, just before bed? Ideally choose a time when children are fed and well rested.
  • Decide how long; this depends on the age of the children. Keep it to a reasonable time limit, but not so short that you cannot give adequate attention to God’s word.

TODDLERS AND YOUNGER

  • Give thanks before meals. Hold the child’s hands and encourage them to join in with “Amen” at the end. Encourage them to echo or say simple prayers as they are able.
  • Pray with and for the child at bedtime
  • Have your own devotions in front of the child
  • Read short, colourful bible stories. Perhaps ask a simple comprehension question or two afterwards.
  • Sing simple bible based children’s songs together
YOUNG CHILDREN TO MIDDLE YEARS
  • Bible stories are still important, branching out into the lesser known ones.
  • Spice up your devotion time by acting out stories, using puppets or pictures, involving the children in role play and re-tell.
  • Introduce real-life stories, applications and real Christian “heroes”
  • Ask questions for comprehension and real-life application of what they have read; “What would you do if..?”
  • As children can read, have them take their turn to read out the verses being studies.
PRE-TEEN TO TEEN
  • Discussion, sharing and engagement become much more important.
  • It’s ok to not always have the answer – model how to find out.
  • Personal devotions for the children should be well and truly up and running – perhaps set “homework” and discuss together, work through devotional books together or research tricky questions.
  • Discuss current affairs and politics and the biblical basis for decisions making in these areas. What are the biblical rights and wrongs of what is going on?
  • Teens take time – make sure you plan for it!
MULTIPLE AGES
  • Beware of dumbing everything down for the younger children, they will pick up more than you think.
  • use a mix of resources; some days may cater more for the younger, others the middle or older.
  • Young children may stay for the first part of devotions then head off to bed while the older children delve in more deeply.
  • Involve the older children in planning and running the devotion time.
  • Everyone may do the same bible study together, with younger children having a children’s bible story at night before bed and older children working through separate studies in the evening

FORMAT

  • Sing together. Perhaps a kids bible song, contemporary worship song  and a traditional hymn. Do not neglect the great hymns of the faith; the words in these will teach spiritual truths to children and will lodge in their memories for a lifetime. Voddie Baucham’s article on family worship touches on why we should sing hymns: http://web.me.com/voddieb/vbm/Blog/Entries/2009/11/5_Answering_Your_Questions.html
  • Study the bible. There are many ways to do this. A couple are: Chapter by chapter (simply work your way through books of the bible from start to finish in small chunks), following a theme or topic or read 1 proverb, a section of a psalm and a couple of verses from the New Testament each day.
  • Several great ideas are included in an article by Al Troester here: http://www.wholesomewords.org/family/famaltar.html)
  •  Perhaps Dad could read through the selected text to begin with, then ask those children who can read to take it in turns to read 2 lines each and those who cannot yet read to echo the words of each verse after you. Dad then teaches back through the selected text – children are asked to contribute to discussions or ask questions after he has explained each line or two. Each person finishes the bible study section by telling something they have learnt or can apply to their own lives. Always look for the applications and personal lessons after each reading and teaching time.
  • Pray. All family members take a turn to pray for whatever is appropriate that day. It is helpful to have some kind of prayer journal or recording system to help with purposeful prayer and to notice the answers to prayer that God gives us. Record the date it was prayed for, what was prayed and leave a column to record God’s answer.
  • Catechism. The catechism is a series of questions and answer that children memorise to learn the main doctrines of the Christian faith, building a strong foundation for world view and ensuring they know what they believe. (More info on this another time:)
  • Scripture memorization. (More ideas on how to do this another day too 🙂


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)

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.

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.