Putting Santa in His Place

throne of lies
SPOILER ALERT!! This post is for adults only! Secrets will be exposed, so hide yo’ kids.A couple of weeks ago my wife and I attended a tacky Christmas party. Ugly sweaters abounded and there were even men in tights. Yes, tights. No, I’m not kidding (hide yo’ kids and hide yo’ wife). Christmas may never be the same, but that’s another story. Seeing that I’m usually accidentally tacky and not creatively tacky I just wore a t-shirt with a picture of Santa and the words, “Don’t stop believin’.” All of you who are Journey fans just went to a special place, didn’t you?It was all fun and games until a friend of mine stated her surprise that I, a Christian, would have Santa come to my house. My friend is sincere about her unbelief and I appreciate that we have been able to have real talks about faith over the years without it being disagreeable. This time, though, I was caught off-guard. I have known some Christian families who did not have anything to do with Santa Claus. I appreciate their sincerity and I respect their freedom to parent as they see fit. This was the first time, though, that I had ever been challenged by someone who is not a Christian on why a Christian would include Santa in their Christmas traditions.Circumstances prevented us from finishing our conversation, but my friend helped me to understand that people are really curious about faith and practice. The conversation also helped me to think about where or even if Santa belongs in our Christian Christmas tradition.I think Santa has a place, but we need to put him in the right place. After all, the legend of Santa Claus has its roots in the acts of a Christian–Saint Nicholas–who gave lavishly to people he found in need, especially children. So here are six key principles to remember as you consider what place Santa has in your family:

  1. Focus more on Jesus than on Santa. Jesus really is the reason for the season. Go to great lengths to help your kids understand that Jesus is the true gift of Christmas and with his coming, he brings the gift of salvation. In our home, the Nativity Scenes have more prominence than Santa.
  2. Fantasy is different from deception. I understand the argument: If kids find out that Santa isn’t real will they think the same about Jesus? The logic of that argument is faulty, though. Most people, as they mature, have very little trouble separating fact and fiction. Actually for children, stories and fantasies can help them learn about morality and virtue. J.R.R. Tolkien said, “Myth and fairy-story must, as all art, reflect and contain in solution elements of moral and religious truth (or error).” I believe his point was that we can use fiction to help us understand key underlying truths using make-believe. The key is keeping the mystery alive without lying (see the next point)
  3. When your kids ask, tell the truth. The day will come when children begin to put the pieces together about the truth of Santa Claus on their own. When they ask you if Santa is real, you can answer that question with a question: What do you think? There’s that mystery idea from #2. As they develop, eventually they will understand the truth. Affirm them as they begin to realize the truth and take the opportunity to talk about Christ as the reality of Christmas.
  4. Respect those with a different viewpoint. Many Christians do not celebrate Santa. We should not discount these brothers and sisters as legalists if their decisions are made out of conviction and not obligation.
  5. Think it through. It is important for Christians to know why they do what they do so that they can explain to a watching world what makes Jesus so special. We should also know why we have Santa in our celebrations and how we help our families see the difference.
  6. But don’t over think it. There are enough big issues to stress over as parents. Let’s not let others’ opinions of us add a burden not worth bearing. Have fun! Decide what is best for your family based on biblical principles. Use traditions where possible to point people toward the gift of Jesus.

So enjoy Santa this Christmas, or don’t. Either way, put him in his place.

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!

 

How to Help Families Focus

Family values always get lots of attention, especially in the church. The only thing that is clear about family ministry is that there isn’t a lot of clarity! I have spent over 20 years in ministry to families in one way or another. I wish I’d had access to a book like Family Ministry Field Guide when I started. The author, Timothy Paul Jones, recently joined me for the Church and Family Connect Podcast with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

Here are five big take-aways for me:

  1. We shouldn’t focus on the family, we should help families focus on God and the gospel.
  2. Most parents know they are responsible for discipling their kids, BUT most parents aren’t doing anything to fulfill that responsibility.
  3. Churches know that parents are responsible for discipling their kids, BUT most churches aren’t sure how to help parents.
  4. Busyness does not mean effectiveness. Churches need a strategy for family ministry.
  5. Youth and children’s ministries CAN be structured to help train, involve, and equip parents.

Listen and share your big take-aways:

Timothy Paul Jones, Part 1

 

Do Your Church and Family Connect?

I have an intense burden to see parents grasp a vision to make disciples at home. That burden extends to helping churches do a better job of equipping families. I believe we in church world have unintentionally communicated to parents that their role in discipleship begins and ends with getting their kids to church. In their sincere efforts to minister to families, churches have created stellar programs and sophisticated curriculum offerings that seem to do a much better job at discipleship than parents could ever do. Notice that I said seem to do a better job. To depend on these church solutions alone to disciple kids is unbiblical! Scripture is clear that faith formation must begin at home (see Deuteronomy 6). The larger faith community–the church–has a role to play as a partner with parents, but parents must see themselves as the primary disciple-makers of their children.

The good news about family discipleship is that many voices are emerging that are championing this idea of connecting church and home. They share my conviction that the institutional church must resource, train, and involve parents as disciple-makers. Churches simply cannot continue just offering a litany of good programming for children and youth and call it discipleship. They must discover ways to equip and empower parents to take the lead in discipleship.

Re-envisioning family ministry in this way can be a daunting task. That’s why I am excited about the Church and Family Connect Podcast. This podcast highlights thought-leaders in the area of family discipleship, giving practical ideas to churches and parents on how we can better make disciples of the next generation. In the latest episode, pastor and author Brian Haynes offers practical advice on how churches and families can use natural family milestones as opportunities to build faith into children and teens.

It’s my prayer that you will subscribe to this podcast and use it as a resource to help you re-think the way your church and family connect. Don’t forget to tell your pastor and children’s/youth pastor about it too. New episodes from pastors, authors, and practitioners are on the way!

 

The Family that Prays…

Recently, my wife, Brandie, and I had a conversation with a friend who was wrestling with how to encourage her teenager to be involved in their family prayer time. She and her husband have made a practice of leading their family to pray using the A.C.T.S. model (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication/intercession), but as their kids are getting older they are facing the challenge of keeping them all engaged in the prayer time. Although it was a challenge for them, the important thing is that this dad and mom were gathering their children for prayer and were intentional in how they were praying.

Teaching kids to pray through an intentional prayer time is vitally important, but what guidelines can we use to help us?

1. Be Real – Jesus warned against prayers that were merely vain repetitions to impress others (Matthew 6:8). By extension, those we try to impress with our prayers could be our own kids. We shouldn’t worry about saying the right things when we pray as parents, we should focus on sincerity of heart. Remember, we’re not praying so our kids will hear us, but so that God will. We pray within our kids’ hearing so they will have a model of sincerity in prayer.

2. Be Relevant – Jesus encourages His disciples to ask him for the things they need (Matthew 7:7). Pray about the needs you have and encourage your children to do the same. Your kids’ requests may seem silly or “unspiritual” to you, but don’t discourage them from asking what is really on their hearts. As you hear them pray and reveal what’s on their minds, then you have information to help you attend to their needs and guide them into more mature, less self-centered prayers.

3. Be Relational – Praying out loud as a family can bring you closer in your relationships with one another as well as with the Father. Prayer is a tangible way to keep Jesus Christ in the center of your family. Your faith as a family will be emboldened as you experience the Lord answering prayers you’ve heard one another pray just as the early church experienced together God’s power through their corporate prayers (Acts 4:31).

4. Be Realistic (not legalistic) – As your children grow they will go through stages of involvement and disconnect. It is good to have a model (like A.C.T.S.) to help guide them, but above all teach that prayer is an honest dialogue not a formal recitation. Keep their ages in mind and encourage small steps like sentence prayers of thanksgiving. And if a child does not want to pray out loud, don’t force them. Be careful not to set prayer out as a religious requirement but as a precious privilege. Encourage them to know that hearing their prayers is a way to grow in intimacy with one another, but emphasize that they don’t have to speak out loud to talk to God. Praying out loud may be a source of embarrassment for people because they’ve never been taught how. The home is a safe place for kids to prepare for public prayer at their own pace.

So, start tonight. Pray as a family. Remember, it’s not how you pray with your kids, but that you pray with your kids which is important! What about you? How do you pray with your kids?

 

Practical Ways to Worship as a Disciple

In the last post I asserted that if your worship is off then all of your life as a disciple will be off. If that is true, then it behooves the disciple to ask, what will it take truly to worship our sovereign God? In other words, after we establish WHO it is we are to worship, we must establish HOW we are to worship. By how, I am not speaking of style or method, per se. If you are looking for a good series on Worship Wars you should check out my friend and colleague Kenny Lamm’s series on the subject. I am speaking more of the practicalities of living out a life of worship to the Father.

Image: thephotoholic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Discipleship is holistic; however, it is helpful to think of specific environments in which the disciple lives out his faith. Four environments for discipleship are (1) personal; (2) family; (3) church; (4) world. Each dimension of discipleship–worship, community, and mission–can be explored in each of these environments. Help in establishing best practices for worship can be found in examining worship through the lens of these four environments: personal worship, family worship, corporate worship, and worship in the world. [Read more…]

Four Ways Churches Can Help Parents

It is clear in Scripture that parents have the primary role in the spiritual formation of children. We have affirmed this and noted that parents ought not outsource this responsibility to the church. But what is the place of the church in partnering with parents?

 It is true that Deuteronomy 6, Psalm 78 and other biblical texts place the onus on parents for discipleship, but in those same passages we should note that these parents aren’t discipling kids in a vacuum. In fact, this command to parent discipleship is given within the context of a broader faith community. In the Old Testament, this faith community is the nation of Israel. The passage known as the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4 begins, “Hear, O Israel.” The command was given to the whole nation, not just the family. Implicit in this is the idea that families need support from the broader faith community. Today that faith community is not a nation, it is the church.

The church should not replace the parents, but parents should not undervalue the church’s role in discipleship. A few years ago the motto for The Home Depot was “you can do it, we can help.” As I have studied the role that churches should play in discipleship for the family, I think that is an excellent motto that could be applied. Churches should affirm that parents are the primary discipling agent, but that the church can encourage, equip, and resource them.

Are you creating little legalists?

In the last post we discussed the difference between a be good/feel good theology of parenting and a Gospel-centered theology of parenting. Moving beyond a be good/feel good theology for family discipleship doesn’t mean that behavior is not important. In Romans 6:1-4, the Apostle Paul calls out the absurdity of using grace as a license for sin. In Titus 3:8, we are reminded that those who have believed in God should “be careful to devote themselves to good works” (ESV). So we should teach children to behave, but we must teach them why they should behave. And we have to be careful not to tie God’s approval of them to their behavior. If we aren’t careful, the danger is that we can create little legalists.

Image: jscreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It has been said that children can get their concept of who God is from their parents, especially fathers. [Read more…]

The One Thing Your Kids Need to Know About You

We have already discussed some practical ways to jump-start discipleship at home, but if you really want them to understand the greatness of God, there’s one thing that your kids need to know about you. They need to know what God has done for you. The command in Deuteronomy 6 (our foundational passage) was first for the people of Israel to confess that there is only one God and to love Him with everything they were. Only after they were first commanded to love and obey the LORD were they then commanded to teach their children to love the LORD. Consequently, the blueprint for faith formation was to orient children toward a God whom the Israelites had experienced personally.

Image: Michelle Meiklejohn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Generational discipleship is the pattern of Scripture. The Israelites were not instructed to pass along mere facts about God and moral behavior. They
were to pass along a living faith in a living God who had been faithful to His covenant. They were to pass along their experience. The rituals, memorials, and festivals that God instituted were for the very purpose of teaching children about the glory of God. Consider these examples: [Read more…]

3 Simple Ways You Can Start Discipling Your Kids

What are your dreams for your kids? We all have them. And we all plan to help make these dreams come true. We plan for their education and save for college. We try to expose them to the best sports opportunities or the best music lessons, or dance lessons, or…I could go on and on. The bottom line is that parents really do know that they have a responsibility to help their children develop physically, mentally, socially, and even spiritually. Because we want our kids to have the best, we often outsource much of their development to “experts.” We find the best coach, or piano teacher, or dance instructor. Parents follow this logic all the way to church.

Image: EA / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There is a problem with this approach when it comes to discipleship. Somehow we’ve gotten the idea that the church is best suited to disciple our kids. [Read more…]