Family Friday Links 2.16.18

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Here’s what we’ve been reading online this week:

Chuck Lawless had a post for leaders and pastors about being tired, “... of opposition and apathy.” He goes on to list 10 things we fail to see in the midst of being tired. This is a helpful post for pastors, leaders, as well as parents.

Stoked on Youth Ministry had a post on writing discussion questions. It starts out this way, “As every youth worker knows, and has probably experienced, discussion times can either be amazing or a total flop!” The post then goes on to list 5 tips that will help discussion time be amazing more often. This is a great reminder for anyone who leads discussion, including parents.

Our friend, Sam Luce, had a post on the importance of gospel-centered curriculum in children’s ministry. He says, “The big mistake we make here in our teaching, and our curriculum is we limit the gospel to an event.” He goes on to list ways some curriculum has shrunk the impact the gospel is supposed to have.

What have you been reading online lately? Leave a link in the comment section for us to check out.

Teaching Kids About Ash Wednesday & Lent

Back in 2010, my friend Sam Luce was on a children's ministry road trip across the country with Kenny Conley. They stopped in Louisville and met Tony Kummer and me at Quill's Coffee. It was Ash Wednesday. I still had ashes on my forehead. It think it was a bit surreal for Sam--hailing from very Catholic upstate New York. I am not Catholic. I clarified that right away for Sam--probably just a bit uncomfortable in my own skin when he asked about the ashes. I'm a Baptist by confession, but I'm part of a church community that follows the church calendar. And, for that, I'm really thankful.

To know the seasons of the Christian year is to know the milestones of Jesus' earthly ministry--from the promise of his coming at Advent through his resurrection at Easter and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. As Christians, we want our personal story to be shaped by his story. One way the universal church has practiced this historically is by letting Christ's life shape our time--not just at Christmas and Easter but throughout the year.

What is Lent?

To know the seasons of the Christian year is to know the milestones of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

Lent is all about preparation. We prepare our hearts and minds for Good Friday and Easter, those days that mark Christ's passion and then his victory over death. We experience the significance of holy week more when we're prepared for it by retracing Christ's journey to the cross. The season of Lent starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter, lasting for 40 days (not counting Sundays). Each day of Lent symbolizes one of the 40 days Jesus fasted in the wilderness before Satan tempted him. During Lent, Christians fast from something that can pull our minds way from Christ (TV, social media, chocolate, etc.). The goal is to fill the void with an invigorated prayer life and increased reflection on God's holiness, our sin, and Christ's perfect obedience even unto death. 

What is Ash Wednesday? 

“Dust you are, and to dust you will return.”
— Genesis 3:19b

On Ash Wednesday, we acknowledge that no one gets out of this world alive.  Those who gather around the world for Ash Wednesday services receive a sign of the cross on their foreheads from ashes (usually made from the palms used on Palm Sunday the previous year). This mark is a reminder of our mortality--we are all going to die--and a call for repentance. The person who gives the signs says over you, 

"Dust you are, and to dust you will return" (Genesis 3:19b) 

Lent with Kids

As I've reflected about on how to pass the practice of the church calendar on to my children. Here are two brief thoughts.

This is an opportunity for a parent to intentionally pass on the truth that life is but a breath

First, I think it's really appropriate for kids to receive ashes during an Ash Wednesday service. We wait until after kids are trusting Christ and give a faithful confession to baptize them and allow them to take communion. But there is nothing about the Ash Wednesday service that needs to be reserved until kids are converted. It's good to have sober conversations with children about life and death. The sage teaches us, "It is better to go to a funeral  than to go to a party, because death is the destiny of everyone. T he living should take this to heart" (Ecclesiastes 7:2). The goal isn't to scare kids out of Hell in some manipulative way. But I believe Ash Wednesday provides an incredible teaching moment for kids. Particularly for a child with a more reflective temperament, this is an opportunity for a parent to intentionally pass on the truth that life is but a breath.  

Second, Lent gives your family an entire forty day season to remember Jesus is best. We fill our busy lives with candy, toys, sports, extra curricular activities, video games, television--you name it. During Lent, we remember the happiness we find in those things is temporary. Jesus says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:19-21). Every toy your child has will one day lie in a junk yard. The treasure of this earth makes us happy, but that happiness is temporary. During Lent we stop filling our lives with temporary happiness and make more room for Jesus.

Consider fasting as an entire family during Lent this year. When you do so, don't just give up something. Also, be intentional about adding a practice, a new affection like serving at church together or volunteering at a local non-profit, to help set your family's heart on God instead of the thing you are giving up. One great resource we've used to teach about Lent with our kids is an old episode of Adventures in Odyssey from Focus on the Family (Episode #152: The Meaning of Sacrifice) that explains the purpose of Lent and the practice of fasting as a family in a way with which our kids have really connected. 

Are you planning to celebrate Ash Wednesday and Lent with your family? What practices have been helpful for you? 

Some portions of this post were adapted from the 2015 Sojourn Church calendar devotional written by Daniel Montgomery and Bobby Gilles.

Family Links Friday 2.9.18

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Here's what we've been reading online this week:

Trevin Wax had a post on the Gospel Coalition site about spiritual practices that help kids into adulthood. While nothing on the list should surprise us, Wax does say, "But don’t underestimate the Spirit’s power to work through the environment you create for your home either." Our kids gain a lot of their practices through observing those they spend the most time with, their parents. This is a good read for those parents who are struggling with where their kids are spiritually.

Tom Ascol wrote a post on the duty of parents. He wrote, "Parents who are more devoted to Jesus Christ than to their kids leave a powerful imprint on their children." While acknowledging how hard this is, our kids need to see by our actions that there is noting more important than Jesus; which points out their need for Him.

Finally, because it's that time of year, here are helpful reminders for how to handle flu season. Jenny F. Smith reminds leaders of the need for and importance of a wellness policy. What are the conditions that parents need to be aware of where their children need to be kept out of children's ministry classrooms. As leaders, we need to think through this and then clearly communicate it.

What have you been reading online this week? Leave us a link in the comment section to check out.

Into the Promised Land Without God

I have a confession to make.  If I am honest with myself, I believe I can save the kids and families of our church apart from God. I know it sounds ridiculous as I write it down. But, its true. It’s something I have to repent of often.  

(c) Sweet Publishing (sweetpublishing.com) and distributed by Distant Shores Media

(c) Sweet Publishing (sweetpublishing.com) and distributed by Distant Shores Media

I love creating clear pathways for parents and church volunteers to disciple kids more effectively and efficiently, but I have a problem. I often start sentences with one of the following phrases, “If we just did this… If people would just… If we just had…” Fill in the blank to any of the previous phrases and all would be right with my parenting or my ministry. I put my hope in the right system, the right amount of volunteers, or the right discipline technique. I think that will bring salvation and make everything right with the world.

Consider God’s Word:

“Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” And [Moses] said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” Exodus 33:3, 15-16 (ESV)

Many of us believe we can get into the Promised Land without God. On the way to the land of milk and honey, the Israelites gave up on God and Moses, his mediator. They create a golden calf to worship in God’s place. In this passage, Moses intercedes for the Israelites so God doesn’t consume them or desert them. Moses understands that if God doesn’t go with them, it would be better if he’d just destroy them now and get it over with. Moses understands that a life apart from God is not worth living.

The reality is many of us would be content arriving at the Promise Land without God’s presence. Think about it. How often do you spend praying for God’s blessings on your family or ministry? It’s easy to rely on the newest attractional techniques, the easiest curriculum, or the best discipline methods rather than God.

Many of us as parents or church leaders create our own golden calves--the right way to discipline, to market our ministry, to lead strategically, or the right systems to make ministry run efficiently. We think these things will make everything right in our world. These are all great tools we should acquire and utilize, but we need to understand they are not the goal. Systems don’t save kids.

I have heard from multiple ministry leaders that as they have built their ministries, they came to a point where the ministry was so effective and efficient, it didn’t leave room for the Holy Spirit. They realized they rarely prayed for God’s wisdom or blessing as they made plans or events. They had arrived at the Promised Land but they didn’t bring God along with them. It is a scary place to be.

As we disciple kids, let’s be sure to give them Jesus and not just something cool, relevant, or attractional. Let’s pray for God’s wisdom and his calling for our volunteers and ministries. Let’s repent of trying to save families without Jesus or the Holy Spirit. Let’s confess, “Unless you go with us, don’t bring us into the Promised Land.”

What practices or rhythms help you remember your need for God’s presence?