Celebrating Lent with your Family

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Unlike most people in our church, I did not grow up Catholic so Lent was an unknown to me until I became an adult. For those of you who did, you might remember the traditions of eating fish on Fridays or giving up something for Lent like chocolate, or television (God forbid), or your smart-alec brother who declared that he was going to give up homework. Not many parents in an evangelical church like ours give serious thought to celebrating Lent, but that is exactly what I would like you to consider.

Contrary to some of our experiences, Lent is not a “works thing”, an attempt to win God’s favor by offering him a sacrifice. You know, if you give up chocolate then God will cause your kids to behave. If you make the supreme sacrifice and give up Dunkin’ Donuts coffee or gasp, the Red Sox, well you can expect God to provide with the funds to go on that cruise you always wanted to.  If that was what Lent was about, I wouldn’t want to celebrate it either.

Lent, at its heart, is about what Christ has done.  It is not about what we do. Immediately after Jesus was baptized, the gospels tell us that he as driven out into the desert where he fasted and was tempted by Satan for forty days. For this reason, Lent runs for forty days beginning with Ash Wednesday and ending with Good Friday and Easter. The season of Lent was created to remind us of what Jesus did for us during those forty days.

He entered the desert. He went without food. He was tempted by Satan. He overcame that temptation and he did it for us.  That is the essence of Lent. And it is a part of the gospel we often forget. We remember the fact that Jesus died for our sin.  He bore our punishment so that we might be forgiven. But that is only half of the gospel. A fuller understanding of the gospel is something like this:

  • Jesus died the death that I should have died so that I might live.
  • Jesus lived the life that I should have lived, but didn’t, so that I might receive the blessings of God he earned for me.

When we remember this, Lent takes on a whole new meaning. We give stuff up for Lent, not to impress God, but to remind ourselves of all that Jesus gave up for us. When I give up something I crave, I remember the hunger pains that Jesus experienced in the desert as he resisted Satan’s temptations for me.

So with this new understanding in mind, think about how you could incorporate these simple Lenten traditions in the life of your family.

Giving up and Taking on

Robert Webber in his book, Ancient-Future Time, makes the point that Lent was never solely about giving something up, it was giving something up in order to take on something important. It is about simplifying in order to create room for us to connect to God and to love our neighbor. That’s why for thousands of years, the church encouraged its members to fast (give something up), pray AND give to the poor (take on something good).

Fasting

Encourage each person in your family to give up something significant for the season of Lent. It could be something that costs you money (deserts, McDonald’s, Chuck-E-Cheese, coffee) or time (video games, Facebook, television, sports watching).  Remind your family that we don’t do this to get God’s love, rather it reminds us of the love that drove Jesus to give up food for forty days and the temptation he overcame for our sakes.

Prayer and giving to the poor

As was said before, Lent is not simply about giving up something, it is giving up in order to create space to take on something good. As your family gives up significant things during Lent, there will be time freed up and money that will be saved. Ask your children to find a local charity or a needy family that you could contribute time and money to.

There are a lot of great local option. Here are a few: A Woman’s Concern, Mobile Loaves and Fishes, the Tolupan Project, the Branch Community Supper (Soup Kitchen in Fall River – see the deacons).  If you have a great local charity share it with us by posting a comment.

Sharing your ideas

Do you have any ideas for families that you would like to share? Post a comment. We’d love to hear from you.


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Celebrating the Good News of Christmas

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I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David as Savior has been born to you; he is the Christ the Lord.

The gospel stands at the very center of Christmas.  The trouble is we Christians have forgotten what the gospel is and because we’ve lost the gospel, we’ve lost Christmas.

The gospel is not advice.  It is not a warning to shape up. You know the song, “he sees when you are sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he know if you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake.”  (This may have some limited effectiveness in getting kids to shape up, but as much as I wish it otherwise, it has nothing to do with the gospel.)

The gospel is not about working yourself into a frenzy to create the perfect memory for your family. In my opinion this is the saddest one. The gospel is about grace, unmerited favor, and yet somehow we take the holiday that celebrates God’s grace and turn it into a holiday that literally enslaves us.  We put in hours of work. We get stressed, tired, angry, and frustrated.  Didn’t God send Jesus to liberate us from being perfect? Isn’t God capable of creating for us beautiful Christmas memories even if we can’t find the perfect gift or we can’t find the time to prepare the perfect meal? How many times have you purchased an expensive gift only to watch your kids toss the toy aside, turn the box into a bobsled and play “olympics” down the stairs.

The gospel frees us from the endless pursuit of perfection. It is resting in God’s perfection. It is a celebration of what God has done for us, when would not and could not do it for ourselves. The gospel is good news! That’s it. That’s what Christmas is about. It is the announcement of a birth that has changed the course of history for good.  It is the story of God reaching down to us when we were incapable of reaching up to him. The heart of Christmas is the story of God graciously breaking into our world. Christmas is about what God did for us.

Luke 2:8-11 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news [gospel] of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David Savior has been born to you; he is Christ [Messiah], the Lord. This will be a sign to you. You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

I am going to pray really hard this year, that the joy and the good news of Christmas does not get drowned out in the noise of Christmas parties, shopping, and the stress of making everything perfect. Christmas is not about what we do, it is about what Christ has done and taking the time to enjoy it.

Sprinkled throughout the day, will be flashes of God’s grace all around you. The joy of having your family with you. The look of unspoiled delight and wonder on your child’s face. The feasting. As a parent, take inventory of all that the ways that God has been gracious to you. Ask God for a grateful heart as you roll out of bed at 4:30 AM.

Then, find some time in all the madness to stop everyone and have them listen to the story.  Our family likes to read Luke 1:5-2:12 and Matthew 1:18-2:12. Tell them that this is the story of what God for us.  Have them listen for the good news in the story and the reading is finished, discuss the good news as a family.

May Jesus break into the hearts of our family, just as he broke into our world 2000 years ago.

Merry Christmas.

Fourth Week of Advent – Some Ideas

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The Angel appears to Joseph revealing that Mary's baby was conceived by the Holy Spirit.

This is part of month long series on celebrating advent in your home.  For an introduction please read, What is Advent?

The traditions described here center around the lighting of the Advent wreath, scripture readings, and a few suggested activities. Do you have ideas to share? Please be sure to post a comment.

Advent Week #4

Introduction: I don’t think we can begin to imagine the shame that having a child out of wedlock would have meant to Mary and those around her. In middle eastern culture’s shame affected not only the guilty party, but their entire family.  Who would believe that Mary was pregnant and yet still a virgin? Joseph, in order to maintain his standing in the community, would have to break off his engagement to Mary.  If he goes ahead with the wedding, Mary’s shame is now his shame. The community would forever consider Joseph to be an unrighteous man. Breaking the engagement or “putting her away” was the only possibility. There was also a social expectation that Joseph publicly shame Mary in order to preserve his own reputation.  But Joseph truly loves her as this week’s story will reveal.

Theme: Waiting for a King: Joseph’s Story

Reading: Matthew 1:18-25

Discussion: Joseph does not know that Mary has become pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit at the beginning of the story.  All he knows is that Mary is pregnant and that he is not the father. How do you know that Joseph is a good man and truly loves Mary? What is he willing to do for Mary and why? In the end, Joseph decides to go ahead and marry Mary at great risk to his own reputation. Why does he change his mind?

Is there anyone you know that if you were their friend, it would make you look bad? What would it take for you be kind to them? What do you think it took for Joseph to make Mary his wife? What crazy message did Joseph have the faith to believe? Why would trusting God make his life harder? So why did he do it?

The key thing to bring out in the discussion is that Joseph’s courage is rooted in what he knew and believed about God. The God Joseph trusted had the power to bring a miracle baby into the world, save the world from their sins, and was faithful to bring about all that He promised. It is good to admire Joseph for this faith and courage, but the most important point of this story is the power and faithfulness of God to keep all of his promises.

Activities:

  • Make a word search out of the words in Matthew 1:18-25. Add words that describe Joseph (courage, faith, loving, etc.).  Add words that describe God in this story (powerful, faithful, Savior, etc.).  As the kids finish up talk about what made Joseph such a good man and God such an awesome God.
  • Have a discussion about people in our communities who are despised and unloved as Mary and Joseph would have been for having a baby before they were married. (Some ideas: the homeless, ‘druggie kids’, teenage moms, …)  How should we treat people that no one else likes? What if they are different than Mary and Joseph and their shame comes from something wrong that they did (such as drugs, or getting pregnant out of wedlock)? Pray for the people you talked about by name and talk about simple ways you can show them kindness.
  • We’d love to hear about your activity ideas! Post them as a comment.


Third Week of Advent – Some Ideas

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Mary learns from the angel that she is pregnant with Jesus, the Son of God

This is part of month long series on celebrating advent in your home.  For an introduction please read, What is Advent?

The traditions described here center around the lighting of the Advent wreath, scripture readings, and a few suggested activities. Do you have ideas to share? Please be sure to post a comment.

Advent Week #3

Introduction: Mary was most likely a teenager, no more than 14 years old when she heard the startling news that she would become the mother of the Son of God through the power of the Holy Spirit.  It is a poor, insignificant, young woman who is now entrusted with the most sacred mission ever given to a human being. In the Bible, it is always the small, the weak, and unnoticed who get cast in the role of hero.  Mary, to me, is the greatest Biblical hero, outside of Jesus.

Theme: Waiting for a King: Mary’s Story

Reading: Luke 1:26-45

Discussion: In Mary’s day, if a girl got pregnant without being married, it probably ruined her life. No one would want to marry her. No one would want to be her friend. Can you imagine how scared Mary must have been? How does Mary demonstrate that she is a courageous young woman with great faith in God? Mary may have had more faith and courage than anyone in the Christmas story.

Reading: Luke 1:46-56

Discussion: Sometimes when people are really happy, they sing as Mary does here.  What has God done for Mary? Think about it, we are part of that story today.  Mary looked into the future and realized that people years later would call her blessed.  That is what we are doing right now, remembering and celebrating her great faith! What will God do for the humble, the poor, and the hungry through Mary’s baby? What will happen to rulers (like King Herod) and the rich? Some say that Jesus came to turn the “world upside down.”  What do you think that means?

Light the Advent Wreath

Song: What child is this?

What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Activities

  • My friend Daryl Breda runs a local crisis pregnancy center in Fall River called A Woman’s Concern. Take a baby bottle and fill it this week with loose change and donate the money to this ministry, or give them a  call at 508-646-2665 to find out how your family could volunteer and help out a struggling young mother.
  • Draw a picture of the Angel appearing to Mary (Luke 1:26-34).
  • Make an angel ornament [We’ll be posting directions soon].
  • Other activity ideas? Post your idea by adding a comment.
Daily Bible Readings:  Here are some Bible readings you can share with your family during the week that go into more detail about this week’s story.
  • Isaiah 7:1-14.  The original prophecy concerning Mary.  Mary was the “virgin who will be with child” and Jesus was the son “Immanuel” which in Hebrew means “God with us.”
  • The Angel Gabriel was a chief angel and shows up at important times in the Bible.  Take some time to look up each of the times this important angel shows up: Daniel 8:16; 9:21-27; Luke 1:13; 1:26; Matthew 1:20; 2:13; 2:19-20; Luke 2:9-14; 22:43; Matthew 28:2; Acts 5:19; 8:26; 10:3; 12:7; 12:23; 27:23; 1 Thessalonians 4:16


Second Week of Advent – Some Ideas

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John the Baptist the prophet who prepared the way for King Jesus is born to Zechariah and Elizabeth.

This post is part of a series we are doing for Advent.  For an information read the What is Advent? post.

The following are some suggestions for celebrating Advent with your family. The ideas in this post center around the tradition of lighting the Advent wreath which is normally done on the Sundays of Advent. We’ll include scripture readings, songs, and activities to accompany the lighting of the Advent candles. I provide only a few ideas, because I’m interested in what you come up with.  Feel free to share your ideas by posting a comment on this blog.

Advent Week #2

Theme: Waiting for a Miracle Son: Zechariah’s Story

Introduction: Ever have one of those days where everything goes wrong?  Imagine living in a world where everything is wrong, and you might be able to understand the world that Zechariah lived in.  First of all, Herod was king of Judea.  Judea was supposed to be ruled by a descendant of David, the great king of Israel.  But Herod through scheming, lying, and terror had grabbed the throne.  It didn’t belong to him.  An evil man is king, while Zechariah, a righteous man suffers.  It’s all backwards and everything is wrong.  But God is ready to change things.

Reading:  Luke 1:5-25

Discussion: In Zechariah’s day, people believed that if a couple couldn’t have children it was because God was punishing them for a horrible sin.  Was that true of Zechariah and Elizabeth?  How do you think they felt about not having a child?  How do you think their neighbors thought of them?  What wonderful promise did God give Zechariah and Elizabeth?  Why do you think Zechariah had trouble believing it?  Would you believe it?  Did God keep his promise?

Reading: Luke 1:57-66

Discussion: What happens to Zechariah the moment that he writes the name of his new son?  What do the people do?

Light the Advent Wreath: Light the purple candle you lit last Sunday and an additional purple candle.

Reading: Luke 1:67-79

Discussion: Did your dad sing a song when you were born?  Maybe that’s a scary thought, but Zechariah sang this song when his son John was born.  The song thanked God for keeping his promise to send a king (a horn of salvation is a symbol for a powerful king), and it described what sort of man John would grow up to be.  What will the promised king do for Israel? What will John be like? What will he do to prepare for the coming King Jesus (the Lord in verse 76)?

Closing Thought:  Zechariah’s son John grew up to be John the Baptist.  John the Baptist called the people of Israel to get ready for the promised king by admitting their sins to God and asking for his forgiveness.  We can do the same thing.  We can make room for Jesus this year as we get ready for Christmas by confessing our sins to God, asking for his forgiveness, and asking him for the strength to live a new life.

Prayer: Take some time to pray with your family. Make room for Jesus by admitting our sins to God the Father and asking him for the power to live like King Jesus did.

Activities:

  • Do a part of your preparation for Christmas.  Bake some cookies. Start decorating. Address Christmas cards.  As you work together review with your children how John the Baptist asked us to get ready for Christmas.
  • Find some in your community, who, like Zechariah, is having a difficult time and is in need for God to pick them up.  Be the answer to your own prayer by sending a card, or a plate of cookies to cheer them up and remind them that God has not forgotten them.
  • Pray for a group of people who are ruled by an evil ruler, just as Zechariah was ruled by and evil King Herod.  Pray that God “will rescue [them] from the hand of their enemies (Luke 1:74).

Song: 

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Daily Bible Readings:  Here are some Bible readings you can share with your family during the week that go into more detail about Zechariah’s miracle son, John the Baptist.

  • Isaiah 40:1-5.  Isaiah prophesied that a prophet would come to prepare the way for Jesus.  John the Baptist fulfilled this promise.  He was the “voice of one calling in the desert.” (Luke 3:2-4)
  • Luke 3:1-20.  John the Baptist begins his ministry.  To get ready for the promised King the people who admitted their sin were baptized – which shows they were ready to live a new life, and they changed the way they lived.  How did the people with two tunics (shirts) change?  How did the tax collectors change? How did the soldiers change? How is God asking you to change?

First Week of Advent – Some Ideas

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Isaiah, one of the prophets of Advent, who foretold the coming of King Jesus.

Sunday, November 27th marks the first Sunday of Advent this year. Advent is made up of the four Sundays before Christmas and is a season of waiting and preparation. We remember what it was like to Israel to wait for their king. We prepare our hearts to receive Jesus today. We remember that we too are waiting for the return of our king Jesus. (Read What is Advent? for more background on the season of Advent.)

The following are some suggestions for celebrating Advent with your family. The ideas in this post center around the tradition of lighting the Advent wreath which is normally done on the Sundays of Advent. We’ll include scripture readings, songs, and activities to accompany the lighting of the Advent candles. I provide only a few ideas, because I’m interested in what you come up with.  Feel free to share your ideas by posting a comment on this blog.

Advent Week #1

Theme: A suffering people wait for a promised king.

Background: Isaiah 9 was written during a dark time in Israel’s history.  Their kings had failed them by leading them to sin against God by worshiping idols, gods made of wood and stone. God’s judgment was imminent. Shortly after this was written, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC and carried off most of its inhabitants to live in a far away land. Isaiah was sent to Israel to announce this dark future, but even with God’s judgment, there is a glimmer of hope.  That hope is what we see in Isaiah 9.  A promised king, what the Jews called the Messiah (the anointed one), was going to come and save his people.

Reading: Isaiah 9:1-7.

Discussion:  Ever been promised anything but have had to wait a long time to receive it? What are you waiting and hoping for this year for Christmas? What do you think it was like for the people of Israel who saw foreign armies come destroy their cities and take them live in a far away land? How badly do you think they wanted a king? What did they hope that this king would do for them? What does Isaiah say about this new king?  What will be like?  What will he do?

Light the Advent Wreath:  Light the purple candle opposite the pink candle. (For instructions on making an advent wreath read What is Advent?.)

Advent Song:  O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

And ransom captive Israel,

That mourns in lonely exile here,

Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Activities: 

  • Focus on a group of people who, like Israel, have had their lives destroyed by war. Discuss what it might be like for those children.  Ask what you think these children might want King Jesus to do for them. Find a catalog that gives gifts to children in poor or war-torn areas and have the children pick a gift to donate.  Samaritan’s Purse and World Vision are both organizations that provide great on-line “gifts for the poor” catalogs.
  • Have the children draw pictures of the promised King in Isaiah 9.
  • Do you have other activity ideas? Share them by posting a comment.

Prayer: Pray for the children of the world who really need King Jesus to come and save them.

Daily Bible Readings:  Here are some Bible readings you can share with your family during the week that go into more detail who about the promised King Jesus.

  • Genesis 3:14-16.  This is the first mention of promised king in the Bible.  God announces to the Serpent (Satan), that a child of Eve  (or descendant), will destroy Satan and the evil that has corrupted the world. “You will strike his heel” (the crucifixion) and “he will crush your head” (Jesus’ death and resurrection).
  • Psalm 2.  This psalm is a description of the power of our promised king Jesus.
  • Daniel 7:14-15. A vision of King Jesus’ ascension from heaven’s perspective.  Notice that Jesus’ kingdom is a forever kingdom.
  • 2 Samuel 7:11-14.  God promises Israel’s King David that a son (descendant) will rule over a forever kingdom.  Throughout the gospels and Christmas stories Jesus is called the “Son of David”.  
  • Jeremiah 23:5-6.  Jeremiah, God’s prophet predicts that a “Son of David” will come to rule and protect God’s people.
  • Micah 5:2-4.  The king promised to Israel will be born in Bethlehem.  Remember where Jesus was born?  This king will also be a shepherd, a protector for God’s people.  Do you remember when Jesus said “I am the great shepherd.”

What is Advent?

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A simple Advent Wreath with three purple candles, a pink “joy” candle (3rd Sunday) and the white Christ candle (Christmas).

The end of November conjures images of Black Friday and children climbing the walls in anticipation of Christmas.  My youngest daughter is already counting down the days and we haven’t even hit Thanksgiving yet.  The questions on our children’s minds are quite simple: How long until the day comes?  What will my present be like? Will we be ready?

Advent, Latin for “coming” and the first season of the Christian Year, asks those same questions.  On the four Sundays before Christmas Day, the church remembers what it was like for the people of Israel to wait for the coming of their Messiah (the promised king would bring peace and justice to the world).  They wondered what will this Messiah would be like.  When will he come?  How can I get ready?

While we remember the past, we also realize that Jesus must come into our hearts today.  We sing about it every year.

Joy to the world the Lord has come, let earth receive her king.  Let every heart prepare him room.

Your family will be rushing around making frantic preparations for Christmas. Christmas cards and letters, purchasing gifts, preparing for Christmas parties, baking Christmas cookies, and cooking for the relatives who will be visiting. While these preparations are important, Advent invites us to stop and think. What does it mean for us to prepare room in our own lives for Jesus today?

Advent is also a look into the future. We wait for the return of King Jesus, just as Israel waited for their king. We know that the world is broken and we are waiting for the greatest gift of all, Jesus.  Imagine a gift that never wears out or breaks, but lasts forever. Advent reminds us that waiting for presents is good, but the gift of Jesus is the greatest gift of all.

The beautiful thing is that your kids are already counting down the days for Christmas.  They know what it means to wait for a special gift.  They can understand how it felt for the Israelites to ask “how long?”  You don’t have to get them into the mood for Advent.  They’re already there.

We’ll be celebrating Advent during the next four weeks at church, but we’d like to encourage you to incorporate your own Advent traditions at home.  At the center of the Advent tradition is the Advent wreath.  The most basic wreath consists of three purple candles, a pink candle, and a white candle placed in the center.  One purple candle is lit on the first Sunday of Advent.  The second Sunday a second purple candle is lit.  On the third you include the pink candle.  On the fourth the final purple candle is added.  At Christmas the white Christ candle is lit in honor of the coming of Christ.

Each week, we’ll provide you with some simple ideas for making the lighting of the Advent wreath a special event.  We’ll include scriptures to read, discussion ideas, activities, Advent carols that can be sung, and additional Bible references if you’d like to go deeper. But we don’t want this to be a one-way conversation.  What ideas do you have?  Please share them with us by posting a comment on the blog.  It is not easy to keep our families from falling into the crazy commercialism of Christmas, but together we can begin to reclaim space to remember the true gift of the Season.

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