January 31, 2020

I am on a college-visit road trip this week with my daughter Elizabeth. It’s an emotional time for me! And personally, when I get emotional, anxiety is lurking just around the corner. Of course, my observant spiritual Enemy knows this about me. So, he took every opportunity he could to poke at that tendency, including, but not limited to, car problems 7.5 hours from home—and 7.5 hours from our destination. For me, this spiritual battle with anxiety is my heart vacillating between fearing the worst-case scenarios and wholeheartedly trusting a sovereign King and loving Father with my life. The better, wiser perspective is obvious—simple, but not easy.  

This week’s Bible story from the book of Esther is uniquely cool for several reasons: 1. The name of God is not mentioned anywhere in the text—although His fingerprints are all over it. 2. The hero is a heroine! 3. It raises all kinds of contemporary cultural issues for us to ponder (e.g., society’s emphasis on physical beauty, government corruption, gender roles, civil disobedience, racial oppression). 4. The narrative contains some of the best and most ironic plot twists of all time. 

But best of all, the book of Esther is a study of trusting God’s loving sovereignty in the face of literally the worst-case scenario. I encourage you to curl up by the fire this weekend and read this short story. Notice all the places where crucial events “just so happened…” Notice God, at work, behind the scenes, directing things to work out exactly opposite of what you’d expect.

He is trustworthy. When we can’t see how something can possibly be “for our best,” we can rest in the wisdom and care of our God. He never takes His eye off you. Your circumstances may be out of your control—but they are never out of His. He’s got this. 

Praying as we wrestle between fear and trust,

January 23, 2020

When you look back at your past—are you plagued with regret? When you look ahead to the future—are you filled with fear? 

This week in The Gospel Project for Kids we are looking at the book of Zechariah. He had an amazing message that spoke to the past, as well as the future. 

Zechariah was a prophet who delivered God’s Word to His people. Zechariah’s message had two main themes: look back at the past and look ahead to the future.

Often when I look back at my life, I can feel overwhelming regret. Things I didn’t do that I wish I had. And many, many things I did and said that I wish I could take back. God’s people had many generations-worth of past sins to rightly fill them with guilt. But Zechariah’s message to the current generation of God’s people was to repent: renounce the sins of the past and live in the freedom God has secured for you.  

But what about the future? I confess it’s easy for me to feel anxious about tomorrow, next week, and next year. As the great C.S. Lewis put it, “We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”

Zechariah, too, had some fear-inducing words about the future. Words about God’s judgment and wrath against His enemies. But Zechariah also tells another story of the future. A story of a new king who would bring righteousness and humility to His reign on earth. A prophecy of King Jesus, 400 years before His birth.

So, although we don’t know all of what our future holds, we know that if we follow Jesus, we are no longer God’s enemies. No longer under wrath, but under grace. No longer slaves to fear, but adopted children.

This week’s lesson is one of trusting God with our past, present and future. I am praying you will be set free from the shackles of fear and regret and be free to walk with your head held high as a child of the one true King.

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15).

January 17, 2020

There’s an old saying that says, “You can never go home again.” If you’ve ever tried returning to your hometown after a long absence, you know what I mean. Even if everything at home stays exactly the same, you have not; so it is very difficult, if not impossible, to ever return to things the way they were. If you try, you’ll usually be disappointed—no matter what the Hallmark Channel tells you.

Imagine returning “home” to a place you’ve never actually been—but have only heard about from your parents’ and grandparents’ stories of the “good old days.” The days before war and exile and slavery. The days when you could worship God freely and enjoy your own language and culture and land.   

Maybe that’s how the Israelites felt as they returned to Judah after being captive in Babylon for 70 years. Excited to finally be free. Amazed to be returning to the Promised Land, literally God’s Country. Walking for days to get back home again. You come around the last bend and up over the last hill and you look down at Jerusalem and see…Desolation. Ruins. Disappointment. 

I love how honest God’s Word is. God tells us the truth about life. Life is no fairy tale where one kiss makes a happy ending. Life is a series of ups and downs, one step forward and two steps back. Life is a challenge. Have you noticed? Even after God miraculously steps in and frees His people from captivity, that doesn’t mean it’s clear sailing from then on. There’s going to be work to do. There’s going to be opposition. There’s going to be trouble. 

Let’s remember to also teach our kids the truth about life. Life is hard. And that’s okay. It is meant to be. Trouble doesn’t mean God isn’t with us and it doesn’t automatically mean we’ve done something wrong. The truth is God’s plan is simply bigger than we can see and His plan includes our troubles. The truth is, God is bigger than our problems and He promises to take care of us through them, no matter what. 

Consider this week’s story in light of whatever your family is facing right now. This week’s story is about overcoming: poverty, discouragement, neighborhood opposition, legal woes, relational tensions. In the midst of the trouble, it is difficult to see how it might end well. But this story (and our story) ends well. Because, as always, God is faithful.  

He was faithful to keep all His promises and send us our Savior. Jesus showed us how to face trouble faithfully. And He won us victory over our worst problems: Sin, death, and the grave. Hallelujah!

“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 

Peace & Love,

January 11, 2020

Well, we are about a week into this New Year and I’m still feeling pretty good about the goals I’ve set. I’m not gonna lie, waking up earlier is tough! But the time margin it provides for putting first things first is a game changer for the rest of the day. 

I might be off to a good start, but I’m absolutely certain I’m going to fail at keeping the New Year’s resolutions I’ve written down. My best intentions wane over time and my motivations get a little murky as my old habits creep back in charge. Can you relate?

This week’s Bible story in The Gospel Project is all about how our faithful Father is not like that. When He makes a promise, no matter how impossible it seems, no matter how long we have to wait, He keeps it.

In the Bible, God often spoke His promises to His people through messengers called prophets. God promised through the Prophet Jeremiah that His people would be in exile for 70 years—but after that He would bring them back to their homeland in Judah.  One of the best promises God ever made and kept was sending His Son: our savior, and the greatest messenger from Heaven of all time. Jesus is the perfect Prophet.

God always keeps His promises and He does just what He says.

So, if (when) you find yourself missing some of your goals this New Year, take heart. We may fall short, but we have a Father in Heaven who is always dependable and true. Why not find a few promises of His that encourage you and commit them to memory?

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son.” Hebrews 1:1.

Rest in His faithfulness this weekend.

January 4, 2020

I love newness. A new calendar, new goals, a new fresh start. I am excited to be in a new decade! Welcome to the 2020s people! 

In NCBC Kids ministry, we begin this new year in a section of Scripture that understandably doesn’t get a lot of press in children’s Bible storybooks: The book of Obadiah.

That actually excites me quite a bit. How cool is it that our kids will be hearing from a part of the Bible with which us parents may not even be familiar?

The prophet Obadiah discusses a conflict between Edom and Israel that is like a long sibling rivalry. This is what can happen to people and families who do not learn how to manage conflict and forgive each other. That alone can serve as a good warning and teaching tool for our kids—and let’s face it—for ourselves.

But I also encourage you to lean into a larger concept we don’t like to think about in 2020s America: God’s justice and holy wrath. It is more comfortable to talk about God’s love and deliverance but that only tells a portion of the truth. This week is a great time to be reminded that it is only in God’s great mercy that we find the real hope of newness: a new creation, a new body, a new sinless nature. Because Jesus took on the punishment of God that we and Edom and Israel deserved, we get to have the deliverance and salvation of God. That’s the gospel and it is very good news.

undefined

Lead the Lessons

Leading the lessons is where all your hard work pays off. 

Now if you’ve never done this kind of thing in your family before it might be awkward at first.  Practice makes perfect.  Don’t give up.  Remember the goal:  A closer family, happy memories, spiritual growth–simply put, Nailing Christmas.  

Make it fun, not dull.  Include something special:  cookies & cocoa; or dad wears a Santa hat; or whoever is speaking in the meeting gets to hold a candy cane (for all you active listening advocates).  Whatever will work in your family to help everyone stay engaged.

SAMPLE LESSON AGENDA: 

  • Call the family meeting (announce everyone should bring a Bible) 

  • Begin with prayer.  Honestly ask God to accomplish what you hope to accomplish.  But keep it short so little ones don’t associate prayer with lectures or boredom. 

  • Explain you are doing something new.  Explain why.  Explain your Christmas theme for the year.   

  • Read the scripture.  Involve others. Allow them to read it.  Ask for input if anyone’s version says it differently.  Clarify anything people might have questions about.  Allow questions but don’t allow rabbit trails.  Pro Tip:  You don’t have to have all the answers.  If you don’t know or understand something yourself, just admit it.  Tell your kids you will ask one of your Bible teachers/pastors/mentors and get back to them. 

  • Optional: Lead the creative time.
  • Optional:  Set expectations.  
    • We had kids memorize the verses and recite them to us on Christmas Eve for a special present.  If you do this, then provide lots of opportunities to practice so that you set them up for success.
    • Another idea is set a kindness goal:  how many neighbors you want to give cookies; how many gifts you want to make for teachers/coaches; how many soldiers overseas you want to send a card; how many toys you want to donate to Toys for Tots, etc.  If you can think of a way to tie it to your theme—even better.
  • Optional:  Theme Ornaments.  I bought theme ornaments for each of our themes.  Each of the kids received one in turn and I usually got myself one too!  I imagine these will be lifelong reminders of the heritage of faith from their home.  I may be kidding myself but I imagine it!

Imagine Creative Ways To Teach

I understand that creativity is not everyone’s strength.  So when I say the next step is to imagine creative ways to teach the theme what I really mean is: Google. 

First, decide on a method that will work best for your family.  If the thought of a gallon of glitter spilled on your carpet makes your blood pressure soar, then your version of creativity shouldn’t include sparkly crafts.  

We were not always very imaginative.  Very often we simply talked together with no special activity at all. The important thing is that you get your family communicating about spiritual things.  But if you can plan ahead to do it in a way that they will be more likely to remember it later on–that is a definite plus.

There are so many resources for ideas online to creatively teach lessons to kids of all ages—even teenagers.   Use them!

  • Sunday School lesson plans
  • Homeschool Bible lesson plans
  • Crafts
  • Science Projects
  • Movie Clips
  • Family Ministry websites like Focus on the Family
  • Student Ministry websites like YouthMinistry.com
  • Make something up!

For our theme on LIGHT,  I wish we would have thought of something like this: 

Genesis 1:3  Have everyone sit around the table.  Ask everyone to close their eyes and/or rest their eyes on their arms so all the light is blocked out.  Talk about blindness and how for some people that is how everything appears. Darkness all the time.  Talk about things that would be missed if we couldn’t see them:  sunsets, flowers, snowflakes, Christmas lights.  For older kids: Obstacles that would cause danger.  Words on a page to read.  Musical notes on a score to play.  The television, our pets, our loved ones.   While they are still in the dark,  place a surprise of some sort in front of them:  a $1 coin,  a cupcake, a hot wheels car, or simply a phrase on a note like “Bowling tonight 🙂.” Talk about the Bible verse from Genesis.  Discuss how amazing it is that all God had to do was say the words and POOF! He gave us one of our greatest gifts—the gift of light by which we can see all the other good gifts.  One by one let everyone open their eyes and see the good gift in front of them. (Pro Tip for dads:  “Foot massage” or “I do dishes tonight” will definitely be considered a good gift if mom opens her eyes to something like that!) 

John 8:12  Sit in a dark room (make it as pitch dark as possible.)  Gather the kids around you and tell them there are _____ number of things hidden in the room (stuffed animals, cans of soda, candy bars, dollar bills etc.)  Tell them they are free to go looking for them (but make it too difficult even for older kids to find any—maybe they are up too high and wouldn’t be found with searching hands).  Little kids won’t even want to venture far from mom or dad.  Then call everyone back to the couch or table.  With the room still dark, give everyone a flashlight.  Allow them to search without even moving around and show how it is possible with the light but was impossible without it.  Discuss the ways that Jesus helps us see things more clearly (depending on the age and understanding of your kids you will talk about more concrete things (how to share with friends, how to obey) and move into more abstract concepts as your kids get older (how to put God first, how to serve).  Being able to follow Jesus is only possible because he brings the light to our path. 

The next and final step is also the most fun:  It’s when you get to actually lead your family through a Christmas Family Meeting.

Add Supporting Verses

After you choose a theme you are going to want to ADD Bible verses to help support your theme. If you are not already using a Bible app on your phone, download one today!  I recommend YouVersion or Blue Letter Bible.  These will help you in your search for verses containing a certain word.  Otherwise simply searching the internet for “Bible verses about…” should provide you with ample material.

You may also pick verses you already have memorized or that you would personally like to memorize.  Or you may want to offer an extra reward if your children memorize them. This is a great opportunity to hide more of God’s word in your heart.

Choose a Bible version that is suitable to your child’s reading level. Look at the following familiar Christmas verse. Notice the difference in wording between these two popular versions:

  • OKAY: For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord (KJV).
  • BETER: Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord (NET).

The year that our theme was LIGHT, we chose two very basic and simple verses (because our children were very small). We wanted to capitalize on the fact that one of the first things children learn about in the Bible is creation–and God first created light.  Secondly we wanted to make sure they understood that Jesus shines light in our world.

  • Genesis 1:3 “And God said, “Let there be light.”
  • John 8:12 “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world.”

Next we get to do our homework as parents before the first meeting…

Nail Down a Theme

Our theme in 2017 was Peace.

Nailing Christmas first step is to NAIL down your family’s theme for this year.  This can be a word, a phrase, a Bible character. With young children, I recommend very simple, tangible, concrete themes.  As your kids get older, feel free to choose more abstract concepts.  

The simplest approach for beginning is to just think about traditional Christmas words and themes:

  • Lights
  • Angels
  • Shepherds
  • Wise Men
  • Stars

Does any idea jump out at you? What do you think would be fun to teach your children?  What are your interests? 

A second way to pick out a theme is to consider the State Of the Family.  Is there a particular truth they need to have reinforced this Christmas? 

For example, in 2017, there was a lot of strife in our household.  This was very unusual for us and we felt like it was important for our family to rally around the idea of Peace–not the subjective notion of heavenly peace–simply peace as in the absence of war!

What are some ways your family needs to be discipled this year?

  • Peace (we are fighting a lot…or worrying too much)
  • Love (we have just been selfish or mean lately)
  • Waiting (we need to learn how to be patient or focus on praying)
  • Generosity (we have been too greedy or discontent)

Finally, is there something about this year that is particularly unique that you would like to capture?  This could be anything from a major family change to a fun new movie you all want to see together.  There are spiritual truths that can be taught from every good story and from every major life event.  Maybe use your Christmas theme to capture exactly what your family was doing in this particular year.

  • Adoption (God adopts us into His family)
  • Moving (Several people in the Bible had to pick up and move–including Mary just before delivering Jesus)
  • The latest superhero movie (Talk about God’s power and spiritual gifts)

The first year we did this our children were very small (6, 4, 2 and 2). The first theme we chose was LIGHTS. Lights are everywhere at Christmas. And lights for little children are one of the best and most exciting parts of Christmas—making emphasizing the theme throughout the week really easy. Conveniently, light is a constant theme in the Bible especially in the Gospels so there are plenty of verses you can use. 

Deciding a Christmas theme does not need to stress you out.  The Bible is full of rich teaching on a multitude of topics.  Next we will build on the theme you’ve chosen.

https://lorettabushlack.wordpress.com/2018/12/17/add-supporting-verses/Click here to continue with the next in the Nailing Christmas series.

Please Don’t Ask Me to Simplify Christmas

I understand the ways that a busy Christmas season can bring fatigue and frustration to many people.  But I actually find joy in the:

 “presents! The ribbons! The wrappings! The tags! And the tinsel! The trimmings! The trappings!

How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss

First, a little background about me: well actually about me and my husband. We did not grow up celebrating Christmas. We were each raised in a church denomination that taught that since Christmas has pagan origins it should not be observed by true Christians.

What this means for me is that by the time I was pregnant with our firstborn and no longer under that church teaching I had pent-up a lifetime’s worth of Christmas love and emotion and affection and passion and…obsession! My husband—not so much—but he lets me be. He hauls my bins of decor in and out of our storage room for me with a smile. 

I don’t want to miss another moment of decorating, baking, sending cards, going to parties, shopping for friends and family. I love it all.  Although I am not interested in “Simplifying Christmas”–when it comes to worshiping Christ, I am interested in “Nailing Christmas.”

So as we raised our family amidst all the “trappings” that can be distractions, we knew we would have to be intentional about making Jesus the central focus of our annual Christmas season. As parents we are often not very consistent with many of our good intentions (maybe you can relate). But since this approach to Christmas is so simple and so meaningful we have been doing it consistently for 15 years. 

How have we nailed Christmas year after year?   

Every year, we choose a theme and use it as a framework for our Christmas celebration.  We always build on top of Jesus as our foundation but we create a new theme each year.  We then lead one “Christmas Family Meeting” a week for four weeks leading up to Christmas. 

Traditionally, the season of looking forward to Christmas coming, called Advent is a four-week celebration.  We had four kids so it worked well for us to have four meetings during those four weeks.  At the conclusion of each meeting, one of our kids would receive a small gift (we did an ornament).  Four is not a magic number, it just worked for us.  You could do this for two weeks or three weeks or ten weeks (but I don’t recommend that!).

Discipleship (teaching someone how to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus) is an overwhelming idea at first.  It never feels like you are ready to do the teaching.  But by concentrating on one central Christmas theme, it has made our practice of family discipleship during Advent clear and focused.  It has given us a simple framework to have conversations about spiritual truths any time, any place .

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:5-9

We want to share with you how we did these lessons, what some of our theme ideas were throughout the years, and ultimately what this has meant to our kids now that they are grown. 

Click here to continue with the next in the Nailing Christmas series.