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 3DM Way of Life and Ministry

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I have spent some time reflecting on how our 3DM movement is different from various fads and trends that spread in the church, particularly the North American church, from time to time.   We all know they happen—seeker-sensitivity as a fad, spiritual formation as a core focus and even missionality as a brand.  Our culture loves novelty—new is always better than old and nothing is better than brand new—ever.

To be fair, some folks do interact with our movement at this level—another stop on a carousel of the latest and greatest magic bullets that will solve their congregation’s “underperformance” and take their ministry to the next level—whatever that is.  Those leaders and churches often turn out to be passing and not permanent relationships on our journey as a movement.  For some of us, however, this calling of discipleship-driven missionality resonates at a deep personal level—a level of calling and conviction.

Early in my personal 3DM journey I saw this and knew I had found a life calling that I had been groomed for from the moment of my spiritual birth—maybe even my physical birth as well.   I am not saying that I “got it” right away or that I even fully comprehend it now—our movement is a dynamic community on a journey of listening to God and doing what he says to do.  All of us are playing catch up to God and our movement pioneers as we listen to him and learn the new things he has for our lives, ministries and movement.  That is a good thing, actually.

In my first months of movement participation I found myself retranslating the paradigm breaking language, structure and strategy that I was being taught into the old wineskins of how I had always done life and ministry.  That is only natural, I think.  Sometimes that is all the farther some people get—a hybrid 3DM experience that doesn’t require them or their congregation to change too much.  I am skeptical about how long that lasts, but the jury is out and I am OK with that for those it helps.

But I, like many others, went “all in” with every expectation of doing this way of life and ministry the rest of my earthly sojourn.   I think it is that phrase that is key to our movement—a way of life and ministry.  We often teach that 3DM begins with discipleship and results in mission, but that is not actually the case.  It is too easy to take for granted that the first step in discipleship is having “a life worth imitating” as a foundation.   Without living what we teach, our whole strategy breaks down.   In other words, without adopting a healthy lifestyle, there is no healthy ministry from a 3DM standpoint.

That is why I adopted this phrase, the 3DM way of life and ministry.  I want to teach others from the start that this is not some burnout ministry method to which I want them to sell out.  This is principally a way of living with Christ and each other that leads to ministry and missional fruitfulness.  We aren’t part of this movement because we do ministry the 3DM way.  We are a real part of this movement if we do life in a biblical way so that ministry and mission are the results.  Sounds a lot like, Jesus, doesn’t it?  From my point of view it is the heart of 3DM.  Is it a way of life as well as a way of ministry for you?  That is a great question for us all.

Embracing Winter

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Embracing Winter

Living in the south these past six years has taught me to appreciate the different seasons.   Sure, we don’t experience the extremes our more northerly friends do (there seems to be a line of latitude we haven’t been able to break in all our moves), but each season is distinct here and brings with it a reminder that God has created everything to operate with particular rhythms.   These rhythms promote life, growth, expansion but are signaled by changes that sometimes bring pruning, loss and death.   Jesus affirmed this when he said unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit (John 12:24.)  Do we know how to identify what spiritual season we’re in?  The Lord has been encouraging me lately with this promise — spring is always on the other side of winter.

Winter is God’s gift to the world, right?  Maybe that applies to the look of a wintery wonderland after a nice snowfall, but otherwise everything looks dead in winter to most of us.  Trees are bare, animals have disappeared and long runs outdoors are made impossible without thermal outfitting!   How can winter possibly be part of God’s plan?  What we aren’t seeing is all that is happening beneath the surface.

Here are a few reasons to embrace winter:

1) Some things weren’t meant to live forever

Winter kills many unwanted weeds, pests and bacteria.  Every September living in South Carolina reminds me the first question I want to ask God –why did he create mosquitos?  They’re unbearably present and aggressive until the first big chill wipes them all out and suddenly it’s safe to venture outdoors again.  Let’s be honest, we often need seasons that force pruning in our lives otherwise we’d often seek to preserve that which sucks life out of us.

2) Good fruit requires good roots

Winter forces many seeds, plants and trees into necessary dormancy in preparation for future germination.  It is a critical time of storing up energy for new growth.  Fruit trees depend on these “chilling hours” to promote greater fruiting in the next season.  Another way of saying this is trees rest before they work.  And we’re wired the same way!  We were created to work from rest.  Winter seasons give us an opportunity to slow down, take stock and reflect.  These are the times we hear from God most deeply and clearly; where our faith expands; where we receive what we need for greater fruitfulness.

3) Life is preparation

Winter is preparation for spring!  Of course the experience of winter may be different in various locations, but you cannot get to spring without passing through winter.  If you’re like me then you want to know things without having to learn them; be good at things without having to practice; eat dinner without having to prepare it.  Here is a simple kingdom principle–today God is preparing you for tomorrow; this week for next, this month for next; and so on.  Life is not like Monopoly; you won’t get a card that allows you to pass over the cost of skipping to GO and collecting your $200.  Remember, each winter is doing in you what he intends in the next season to do through you.

Paul reminds us that we rejoice in our sufferings because they produce perseverance, which in turn produces character, and character produces hope that does not disappoint (Romans 5:1-5).  The wintery seasons of our lives promote an unseen growth, the deepening of our character that promotes greater strength and stability of heart.  Do we rejoice in these sufferings?  Do we believe in the deep, unseen work of the Spirit in our hearts to increase character and capacity?  Do we embrace these winters for what they are?  Do we know how to lead our families, teams and communities through these seasons to get the most out of them?

As difficult as this may be, you can trust spring is always on the other side of winter.  It’s been this way since the world was created.

As I reflect on the journey of our family, our team and my work in the kingdom, I feel like we are in a season of winter.   Events and opportunities are slowing.  Our focus has turned more inward.  We are shifting from an emphasis on kingdom structures to covenant ones.  Drawn into greater abiding we are hearing afresh from the Lord and learning to rest in his words.  This can be unnerving for an apostolic leader, but in all this I choose to rejoice knowing spring is on the other side!

Embrace your winter!

What a difference a year makes!

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What a difference a day, a week, and especially a year makes! It’s hard to believe this time last year I was standing in a hospital room looking at this precious baby who was our son! Across the hall was the amazing incredible selfless woman who had carried him for 9 months, loved him and labored for him and then handed him to me. As soon as I held him and looked at his precious little face I knew he was mine. You never know how you are going to feel until that moment and I can promise you that I felt exactly the same way that I did when I had given birth to our son just a year prior.  From that moment I knew I would give up anything and everything for this tiny little person. In a moment everything changed and I knew I would never be the same.

There are many moments in our life where everything changes and we know we will never be the same. It might be the moment we say I do on our wedding day or the moment our child is born.  Sometimes these moments are split second decisions like the choice to say hello to someone who ends up becoming a lifelong friend. Sometimes these moments are difficult and painful like when we have to say goodbye to a loved one who is going home to be with Jesus.

 

In the 31 years that I have been alive there have been many of these moments and many of them I have probably missed but this year I have become so very aware of how significant they are. I recently reflected on the last 12 months and all that has happened—to say a lot has changed would be an understatement.

12 months ago my husband and are were sitting in our house in Pawleys Island and I can guarantee you I was saying, “When is Jackson going to be born? I just need him to get here” Then on Monday October 6 at 10pm we were settling in for the evening when we got the call. Our adoption agent, Carri told us that Jackson’s birth mother was in labor and that we should get in our car and drive to Greenwood.

Since then I have changed jobs three times and we have moved to a new city. We have said goodbye to loved ones and welcomed new ones into our lives but when I look back I can see the Father’s hand in it all.  There are incredible testimonies from the last 12 months and the Father has made it very apparent that he has worked in it all. Sometimes I think we can be going so fast and our lives can be so busy that we miss the Father’s work and his incredible gifts to us. God has moved in every area of our lives and he has overwhelmed me with His extravagant love for me. He has given us things we didn’t even know that we wanted or needed. Even in the times when I wondered how it was all going to work out, he came through every time.

When you have suffered great loss and have had to walk through grief it’s easy to feel like God let you down. I have certainly had my moments when I wondered if he was really going to come through this time but what I have learned through the past 12 months is that God not only redeems and restores what we have lost, he gives us so much more! I am eternally thankful for the sacrificial and selfless love of Jackson’s birthmother who chose us to be his parents. I am overwhelmed that he would give me such an incredible gift and chose me to be the mother of this wonderful little boy. When I look into the eyes of my son I am constantly reminded of the Father’s extravagant love for me and how he gave up everything for me even though I don’t deserve it. I hope I never lose sight of the blessing that Jackson is or how deep the Father’s love is for me!

Which way has this past year gone for you?  Has it been a dizzying climb upward or a dramatic descent?  Or has it been an up and down rollercoaster?  Perhaps it has been a long, level and boring flatland where the scenery hasn’t changed at all and you despair it ever will.  Whatever the topography has been, the Father has been there with you.  Try to remember that God not only redeems and restores what we have lost, in his faithfulness, he eventually gives us so much more!

Living into an Unpolished Missional Vision

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I’m a planner.  I love organization, tidiness, and feeling prepared for things.  Color-coded calendars give me an odd sense of satisfaction!  Planning ahead and having things in nice neat boxes has served me well for many parts of my life and leadership.  But there are other places where the Lord is teaching me to chill out a bit and see what He’s doing before I go and make my nice, neat plans!

 

In the missional community I lead, we are sensing the Lord calling us to a new level of purpose and intentionality with mission in this next season.  Our community has seen huge growth in terms of becoming family and sharing life together, and we’ve worked hard at predictable patterns of gathering and playing well together.  But there’s an overall sense that the water level is rising and the Lord is up to something and it’s time to go after it with gusto.

 

If left to my most natural leadership tendencies, I would cast crazy-compelling vision, get everyone fired up and go for it!  But it’s awkward.  Every time I try to do that, the Lord’s like, “nope.”
Awkward.

 

And then I remember: mission isn’t about my great visionary ideas of how we can help the Kingdom of God break in.  Mission is about partnering WITH God where he’s ALREADY at work around us.  That means we need to see what He’s already doing!

 

We’ve been given an incredible invitation to partner with God in HIS mission to restore the world back to himself.  It’s amazing, really.  In my excitement, I can get way ahead of Him with great ideas that are just that…great ideas.  But they may not be His ideas.

 

So as much as I’d love to already have a beautifully polished missional vision statement (I still have faith we’ll get there!), I’ve been learning to live in the tension of what we know God has called us to thus far and what He’s still revealing through the journey.  What I feel most passionate about, though, as we live in this tension is that we don’t wait for the magical moment where it all comes together before we start engaging in meaningful “out.”  It could be an incredible temptation to sit around and wait until God brings amazing clarity.  But what I see throughout the fabric of scripture is that clarity comes in the GOing.

 

The Jordan river parted after the first set of toes were dipped into the water.

 

The food multiplied as the disciples gave it away.

 

So take what you know, start engaging with it and see what God reveals through the process.

 

For us, this has meant a couple of things:

 

We’ve become really good observers.  Who seems to be hanging around?  As we walk the neighborhood or part of town we feel called to reach, what do we notice?  We take note where people gather, how they celebrate, what the needs are, what’s going on in the area and ask the Lord how we can meaningfully engage in those things as a community.

 

We love experiments!  The word experiment communicates a freedom to try things, a freedom to take risks, and a freedom to fail!  It gives room to try different ways of engaging your neighbors or co-workers or your “who” that you feel called to reach.  What works?  What doesn’t?  Inevitably, you’ll stumble into things that surprise you.  Some of your experiments may become a new regular rhythm for your community.  Others you won’t do again.  Either way, HOW you reach those you are called to reach will become clearer as you try things.

 

So before you get all stressed out about your missional community or your missional family not having the full picture of what mission looks like specifically, embrace the process!  Live into your unpolished missional vision and allow time for the clarity to come as you GO!

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.