My New Christmas Tradition

Whether it’s ugly sweaters, epic outdoor light displays, Christmas baking (yes, please),watching “Elf,” “Home Alone,” “A Christmas Story,” or (for you traditionalists) “It’s a Wonderful Life,” everybody has some holiday traditions.Jimmie-Johnson-in-Ugly-Christmas-Sweater

The consistency of doing something the same way or in the same location with the same people year after year embeds memories of what is important to a family. My family has lots of Christmas traditions, but for some reason, celebrating Advent has not been one of them. I don’t know why, but it was never a part of my church or family experience. A few of the churches we attended while I was growing up lit an “Advent Candle” every Sunday in December, but I don’t remember them ever explaining what they meant. (Read more about making sure our memorials have meaning here).

We have always done something to prepare for Christmas. When the kids were younger we had a countdown calendar that told the story of the birth of Jesus by adding one character to a nativity scene every day until Jesus was added on Christmas morning. We also used the great resource “What God Wants for Christmas” to share with the kids about the birth of Jesus during the week of Christmas.

But, I have never intentionally set aside the month of December to contemplate the coming of Jesus and prepare my heart in worship of him…until this year. Now my question is, “Why haven’t I done this before?” This year, at the encouragement of my awesome wife we are using John Piper’s free eBook, “The Dawning of Indestructible Joy” to lead our family through Advent devotions. I am reading the daily entry in the morning during my quiet time and then we are reading them together as a family at night.

Here’s why I think Advent will become one of my traditions:

1. Priorities – It is easy to get sucked into the materialism of Christmas. Focusing on daily worship of Jesus has kept me from putting too much emphasis on the wish list side of Christmas.
2. Connection – Reading the same devotion daily and then sharing with one another at night unites our family around our faith.
3. Perspective – Advent devotions help me to not just focus on the Bible stories centered on the event of the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1-2; Luke 1-2, etc.) but to see how every part of the Scripture points to the coming of the Messiah or looks back to his coming.

So, if you’re feeling as uptight as Clark Griswald when cousin Eddie shows up for dinner, relax! It’s not too late for you, either. Here are a few Advent resources you can use with your family.

The Dawning Of Indestructible Joy by John Piper

The Expected One by Scott James (Great for young families)

Multiple Advent Reading Plans available on the YouVersion Bible App.

You Can Help Your Kids Dream Big Dreams

As we grow up society can suck the dreams right out of us. We are told to be realistic, not to get our hopes up. By the time they reach college or work age, most kids’ dreams have been managed down to a very narrow window of opportunity based on perceived skills or academic achievement. We send conflicting signals. On the one hand children are told to follow their dreams and that they can be whatever they want to be. On the other hand, when they share those dreams adults can start to tame them under the good motive of not wanting children to be disappointed.

Zoned Out
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Lily Zhu via Compfight

Last week our family spent time sharing our hopes and dreams for the future with one another. I must confess that I have not done a lot to cultivate this area of my kids lives. Children have wonderful imaginations, hopes, and dreams. But I’m afraid I have been more concerned with what they need to know for growth in godliness than I have been with hearing what God is doing in their hearts already. Simply put, I’ve done more talking than listening.

The idea came from a podcast by Michael Hyatt encouraging people to dream big. Hyatt’s insight was very helpful, but I wanted to try to help my kids not just dream in the abstract. I wanted them to begin to dream and pray towards God’s best for their lives, not just their own whims and desires. It’s good to set goals and have dreams, but these can easily become self-centered unless we see them through the lens of Scripture.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV)

This year, our family adopted Ephesians 3:20-21 (above) as our theme verse. We have seen God do amazing things around us in answer to prayer over the last few years, but I was convicted by this Ephesian doxology that we had not prayed big enough prayers. We worship a God who can do more than we can ask or even imagine according to His power and for His glory! I want my kids to have faith in a big God who can empower them to do magnificent things as they seek to obey and glorify Him.

So, here’s what we did for our family devotional time last week:

1. Dream – I sent everyone (including me and Brandie) off with a sheet of paper and told them to write down 5 things they wanted to do in their lifetime. I told them that nothing was off limits.

2. We gathered back together and took turns sharing one dream each at a time around the circle until we heard all 5 from everyone. Not all the dreams were super-spiritual. They included things like playing in a rock band and traveling the world. But also included were things like going on mission trips, serving special needs kids, helping in a nursing home, and seeing God’s will accomplished in our neighborhood.

3. Once we had heard all the dreams I read Ephesians 3:20-21. Then, I asked us to consider which of those dreams were God-sized. Each person shared a little more and we talked about how God can do more than we can ask or think.

4. Then we prayed and asked God to be glorified and help us to dream the dreams He had for us as individuals and a family for His glory.

I learned things about my kids and my wife that I had not known before. They also learned some things about their dad they didn’t know. Now I have a better insight into who they are and how I can serve my family as a father and husband. I can help channel those dreams toward godliness. I can pray more specifically for my family. I can ask better questions to help them focus on Christ and His glory based on their God-given passions.

What’s next? Our goal for the summer is 100 dreams each. Perhaps some of these dreams will become goals. Maybe others will be the seeds to greater focus later on down the line. Some don’t seem realistic, but that’s the point of dreams anyway right?

So, how about you? What are your dreams for your family? What are their dreams? You won’t know until you ask!