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Jason Byerly

Making the Most of the Holidays with Kids

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It’s not always easy to make the holidays meaningful for our kids.  Take it from me.  I learned the hard way.

A few years ago my daughter’s birthday fell on Thanksgiving.  We had cake and presents first thing in the morning, then shifted gears to prepare for a traditional dinner with family.  Before we knew it, the house was flooded with relatives we hadn’t seen in ages, and we spent the whole afternoon playing games, watching football and catching up.

Later that night, when I tucked my daughter into bed, I asked her if she’d had a good Thanksgiving.  She gave me a confused look and said, “It was Thanksgiving?”

She thought the whole day had been about her–her birthday, her presents, her celebration.  I couldn’t blame her.  It was an epic parenting failure.  In the busyness of preparing for the holiday, we had never talked about what we were celebrating and why.

Even without a birthday thrown into the mix, the busyness of the holidays can make it tough for parents to keep family discipleship on the front burner.  We want the holidays to be spiritually significant, but how can we do it in a way that’s light and easy?

We find a clue in Deuteronomy 6.  That’s the verse where God tells His people to impress His commands on their kids.  However, the liberating part about this verse is how God says to do it.

“Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:7 NIV)

In other words, just keep doing what you’re doing, but use it all as an opportunity to pass on your faith to your kids.  If we want to build God’s word and God’s ways into the hearts of our children, we have to weave them into the fabric of everyday family life. It has to be integrated into our daily rhythm.  It has to become who we are.

Despite the hectic nature of the holidays, it’s a prime opportunity to put this into action.  Whether it’s Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s Eve, these special days come packed with spiritual significance and fun traditions that kids naturally enjoy.   With a little intentionality, even the busiest of families can use the holidays to make discipleship a normal part of everyday life.

So how do we do that?  We simply use the same tools we are already using to grow in our faith.  The Triangle, for example, gives us a helpful lens to rethink our holiday celebrations.   Here are a few ideas how you can use it to inject a healthy dose of discipleship into your family celebrations.

Up, In and Out Thanksgiving

Instead of just going around the table giving thanks for one thing this Thanksgiving, go around the table and give thanks for three things – an Up, an In and an Out.   Start with Up. Have everyone choose something they’re thankful for about God.  Next, move onto In.  Let everyone share someone they’re thankful for who has helped them to follow Jesus.  Finally, end with an Out.  Have everyone give thanks for the missional opportunities God has given to serve others or give thanks for the People of Peace He has brought into our lives to love and bless.

If you want to take it to the next level use this Triangle craft idea to make an Up, In and Out centerpiece with your kids.

Exploring the Christmas Story

As we move into December, spend some time with your children looking at the Christmas story through the lens of Up, In and Out.  If you’d like some help, I’ve written a free advent guide called God’s Big Christmas Adventure with five new family devotions.  The devotions feature questions and suggestions to apply the story through each corner of the Triangle.

I’ve even included a fun activity our family does for New Year’s Eve that will give you and your kids an excuse to reflect on God’s faithfulness over the past year and look forward to what He will do in the future.

Triangle Prayer Activity

Finally, here is a link to a prayer activity I’ve written that your family can do as you count down the days until Christmas.   Use the printable sheet to create 24 slips of paper with Up, In and Out prayer prompts your kids can draw out from a gift bag each night at the dinner table.   It’s just a simple, practical tool to get us praying and thinking like Jesus in the Christmas season and beyond.

The ideas I shared aren’t rocket science, and you shouldn’t feel the pressure to do all of them.   Just pray through what makes sense for your family or come up with ideas of your own.  Any of us can take the Triangle and other LifeShapes and use them to make the most of the holidays with our kids.

This year my daughter’s birthday happens to fall on Thanksgiving once again.  Hopefully, this time around she’ll actually know what we’re celebrating and why.

The Five Capitals of Parenting

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I knew I was in trouble the day my daughter learned how to shop.  She was about 18 months old at the time, and we were in the toy section at Babies R Us.  Up to that point, she hadn’t paid much attention to the toys on the shelves unless I pulled something down to show it to her.

That day, however, something clicked, and she realized she was surrounded by a wonderland of fun.  One-by-one, she began pulling toys off the shelves and bringing them to the cart. She wasn’t fussing for them, just delighting in each item and doing what she’d seen her parents do in stores time and time again–throw things in the cart.

She had a such a sweet attitude about it that I was ready to hand over my wallet.  At that moment I realized that if I had the money, I just might buy her every toy in the store.  I really would have.  There was something deep in my heart that wanted to give her everything.  I wanted to give her an abundant life.

Then, a thought emerged in my head as clear as day.  “You have the power to absolutely ruin her.”  God revealed to me in that moment how easy it would be to invest in my daughter in all the wrong ways.

As I processed this kairos later, I realized that what I had experienced was my natural impulse to reflect the Father’s heart.  In Matthew 7, Jesus said, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

Because we are made in the Father’s image, it’s the nature of parents to want to provide for our kids.  We want our kids to flourish.  However, our Father in heaven doesn’t just provide, but also protects.  That means God doesn’t just give us things.  He gives us the best things, the experiences and spiritual resources that will lead to true life.

From our limited vantage point, though, it’s easy to get confused about what exactly are the best things for our kids.  Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.”

That day in the toy aisle taught me, that without God’s direction, my parenting impulse to give my kids the best could destroy them.  If I focused on giving them abundant life, I would end up giving them no life at all.  However, if I focused on giving them Jesus, the abundant life would follow.  “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

What matters most

When Jesus commands us to “seek first,” he is clearly telling us to prioritize our lives.  He is saying that some things in our lives are simply more valuable than others.  To help our children follow Jesus, and as a result, experience the best God has to offer, we have to get our priorities straight as parents.  Because we have a finite amount of resources to invest in our kids, we have to make sure we’re focusing on the most important things.

In his book Oikonomics, Mike Breen identifies five capitals or resources, that God has given us to manage in our lives:

  • Spiritual
  • Relational
  • Physical
  • Intellectual
  • Financial

The trick to managing these resources well is to realize that, though they are all valuable commodities, some are more valuable than others.  Our spiritual capital is the most valuable while financial is the least.

A friend of mine told me about a mom in his huddle who was wrestling with these priorities.  She said, “I’ve been parenting with the five capitals in reverse.”  In other words, her natural priorities as a parent were the opposite of God’s.

She’s not alone.

The world tells us the most important thing as parents is to raise successful, happy children and, as a result, we may prioritize our parenting like this:

  • We throw money, toys and new clothes at our kids to make them happy (financial).
  • We push our kids to get good grades (intellectual).
  • We sign our kids up for a million extra-curricular activities (physical).
  • We arrange play dates and Pinterest-worthy parties to make our kids popular (relational).
  • If time allows, we squeeze in church on Sundays (spiritual).

There’s nothing inherently wrong with toys, good grades, extracurricular activities and play dates.  It’s just easy to forget what’s most important when it comes to raising our kids.  Jesus says that if we go after kingdom stuff first, He’ll take care of the rest.

You had one job

If you’ve spent much time online at all, you’ve probably stumbled onto the phrase, “You had one job.”  It’s an internet meme used to describe epic fails in the workplace and beyond.  The pictures frequently include misspelled signs, products with the wrong labels or people generally fouling up the simplest of tasks.

I’m convinced, that if I don’t keep my priorities straight as a parent, some day I’m going to look back on my kids’ childhood with regret and say to myself, “You had one job.”  Jesus told me to go into the world and make disciples, and the two disciples I have the most influence with are my daughters.   When it comes to parenting, I have one job.  It’s not to raise smart kids, popular kids, or athletic kids.  It’s to raise kids who imitate Jesus.

Again, it’s not that being smart, popular or athletic are bad things.  They’re just not the most important things.  Our job as disciples, and as people who are discipling our kids, is to learn how to leverage the less valuable capitals in our children’s lives for what matters most.

In the economy of the Bible, it’s all about trading up.  Jesus illustrated this by telling us about a merchant looking for fine pearls.  He said, “When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:46).  The merchant made a great deal, and we can teach our kids to make great deals too.

For example, if your kids are into sports (physical capital), you can help them to use that opportunity to build friendships with their teammates (relational capital) and potentially discover people of peace who they might be able to invest in spiritually.  In that scenario you’ve just shown them how they can take something less important, sports, and trade it for something more important, friendship, to get something of eternal value, the growth of God’s kingdom.

Of course, the best way to teach our kids what matters most is by modeling it ourselves.  Our kids learn their priorities by watching us in action, whether we want them to or not.  In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul said to “follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.”  This is the essence of great spiritual parenting.   Follow Jesus and invite our kids along for the ride.

As we learn to prioritize the five capitals in our parenting, we’ll begin to see spiritual fruit in our kids’ lives that we never dreamed was possible.  They really will begin to experience the best that God has to offer.  While we may be tempted to settle for buying them every toy in store, God has something far better, the abundant treasure of a kingdom that can never perish, spoil or fade.

Pig and Sheep – Review

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Pig and Sheep is my favorite picture book to come along in years. Not only is it a delightful story that’s well-told with engaging text and charming illustrations, it’s also a powerful story of grace.

Little Pig lives in the Grand Pig Sty, enjoying his slops and mud, until one day he spots a shepherd leading his flock nearby. That’s the day Little Pig begins to dream of becoming a sheep. Once he meets the kind-hearted shepherd, that dream becomes reality.

But as many of us have learned the hard way, the transformation from pig to sheep is not always an easy one. When Little Pig returns to the Grand Pig Sty for one last party, he learns just how much the shepherd truly loves him.

Unlike so many Christian picture books Pig and Sheep isn’t heavy-handed or preachy, but the themes emerge naturally from the story.  I love that illustrator Blake Berg portrays the shepherd as a border collie sheep dog, and not as a human. It keeps the integrity of the story world intact, without coming off as cheesy or forced.

Pig and Sheep works on so many levels. My kindergartner loved it for the story and pictures while my third grader picked up on spiritual message immediately.

As an adult, the story moved me emotionally, a potent reminder of God’s grace in my life, and I found myself getting choked up as I was telling the story to my wife.  It’s hard not to be moved by Little Pig’s journey and Breen’s portrayal of three core spiritual themes:

  • Identity:  After his wild partying in the Grand Pig Sty, Little Pig says, ““I’m just a little pig again.  I probably can’t ever go back.”  But when the shepherd finds him, he doesn’t call him Little Pig.  He calls him Little Sheep.
  • Grace: When Little Pig confesses his bad decision to the shepherd, the shepherd responds, “Don’t worry, little one.  I know.  But you can always make a good decision after a bad one, right?  Come home with me.
  • Transformation:  Breen shows us that spiritual transformation is an ongoing process, not an instantaneous change.  Once Little Pig receives a new heart, he begins growing his wool a little bit at a time and still makes mistakes.   Visually, Blake Berg makes this idea fun and convincing.

 

Speaking of the illustrations, Berg throws in several fun touches, my favorite being Little Pig’s rubber ducky, who appears somewhere on almost every page. My kids loved trying to spot where Ducky was going to turn up next.

All in all, I think Pig and Sheep would be an excellent resource for families, children’s ministers and even senior pastors.

  •  Families: This book is a wonderful opportunity to cuddle up before bed and start great spiritual conversations at home.  It would be a fantastic treat to stick in the Easter basket this year.
  • Children’s Ministers:  You could build an amazing lesson around this book for children’s church or Sunday school or even a whole series around the story’s themes of identity, transformation and grace.
  • Senior Ministers:  Use this book on Easter Sunday!  Incorporate Pig and Sheep for a creative element in sermons about the crucifixion, Peter’s denial of Christ and, of course, the stories of the lost sheep or prodigal son.

 

If you haven’t guess by now, I’m loving this book and am sure I’ll be using it at home and in ministry for years to come. It’s destined to be a classic!

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher, but the opinions in this review are my own. I would have bought this book ten times over!

Originally posted on simplekidmin.com