The Jesse Tree and Other Advent Resources

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Many families mark the days of advent with a traditional advent calendar, opening a tiny door for each day leading up to Christmas. Our family advent tradition, the Jesse Tree, focuses on tracing the storyline of God’s family from Creation to Cross.

We all have a family tree–branches filled with mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. The Jesse Tree is a way we remember God’s family line and our own place in it. As Christian parents, we remember our adoption into God’s family by his grace. As we teach our children, we pray that God will include them in this family by giving them living faith.

What is a Jesse Tree?

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In our home, it is a tiny one and a half foot discount store Christmas tree. On it, we hang a laminated paper ornament for each day of Advent. Each ornament on the tree represents the story of a person in Jesus’ family tree. In Isaiah 11:1 we read, “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” Jesse was the father of David, Israel’s greatest king. And it was from David’s lineage that Jesus came. That’s where the idea of using a Jesse Tree to celebrate Advent came from. Before a symbol is hung on the tree, a Bible passage or a story from a story Bible is read. This is the story of God’s family, the story of the Christian family. As we read his Word, we remember that Jesus came for his family. Jesus comes to us, and he will come again. Come Lord Jesus. I've worked on a Jesse Tree project guide with the Arts ministry at our church, Sojourn Community Church--Midtown in Louisville, KY. It includes sample symbols by artist Tim Mobley, beautiful cover art by Elise Welsh,  instructions for how to make Jesse Tree ornaments, and family devotions based on the Jesse Tree.

Other Advent Resources

Over the years, we've used several different devotionals with our Jesse Tree. We've found the following resources to be particularly helpful:

  • Sam Luce has posted about how there are 24 Old Testament stories in the Jesus Storybook Bible that lead up to the birth of Christ. One year, we chose to read one of these each night as we put up our Jesse Tree ornaments.
  • Another helpful resource is Ann Voskamp’s book, Unwrapping the Greatest Giftwhich was designed for use with a Jesse Tree.
  • My friend Scott James has written a children's book entitled, The Littlest Watchmanwhich tells the story of a boy named Benjamin who watches for the fulfillment of the "root from Jesse" prophecy. The Good Book Company has created an accompanying Advent calendar and devotional that includes instructions for making your own Jesse Tree.
  • We have also used Marty Machowski's devotional Prepare Him Room, which unpacks one Old Testament prophecy about Christ's coming during each week of Advent. The devotional has an accompanying 4-week children's ministry curriculum that our church has used during Advent season with our church as well.
  • Finally, you might consider these Bible memory ornaments from She Reads Truthwhich provide Scripture memory passages for each day of Advent.

Have you ever used a Jesse Tree in your home? If so, what tips have you found to be helpful?

Friday Family Links 11.17.17

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

John Wells was over on the Gospel Coalition blog writing on the topic on how to (and not to) teach the Bible to our kids. He laments, “As a parent, I realized I’d failed to teach my kids the incredible story of redemption by allowing secondary moral lessons to usurp the primary message of Scripture.” He goes on to list four don’t’s and five do’s. Parents, this is a post you need to read.

The ERLC had a post that was close to my heart because I’m in the middle of dealing with it, on caring for elderly parents. It reads near the end, “The way we honor our parents now matters tremendously, both to the generation that came before us and the ones that are following after.” This post has four great reminders that we need to keep in mind as it comes to this topic.

Todd Jones had a post on the “Stoked On Youth Ministry” site on effective ministry to high school AND middle school. This post seeks to answer the following, “These groups are completely different. So, how do you handle the very difficult task of ministering to both of them?” If you are a pastor of these ministries, take advantage of this resource.

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

Everyday Gospel Parenting

"Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." (Ephesians 6:4 ESV)

As parents, we often think we are missing the mark when it comes to raising our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Maybe it's just me who thinks this, but I don't think so. In once sense, we are of course. We're all sinners, and we all we fail to be intentional with the time the Lord gives us. But I think it's equally possible that we've become too introspective and that we're missing what God is already up to in the hearts of our kids.

Aiming at Heart Transformation

When our focus is on "getting our parenting right" we can forget what our real aim is. It's easy to aim at imparting information to our kids, but that's not our goal. It's also easy to use the Bible to get our kids to behave. But if we're aiming to win our kids' hearts to Christ, then "getting it right" is less important. In fact, if our kids are going to see their need for Jesus' good news, they'll also need to see how desperately we, their parents, need him.

I probably need the truth of this post more than anyone I know. I'm much better at aiming at my kids' behavior than I am at being vulnerable and sharing my own brokenness and need. It's an attempt to bring about a spiritual outcome without living in dependance upon the Spirit myself. It won't work. It can't. We must be growing in our own faith and repentance. That's the only way to lead our kids to greater experiences of dependence as well. We can't expect something of them that isn't true of us.

Living with Intentionality and Faithfulness

We're all desperate to hear the message of Christ's cross and resurrection applied to our brokenness every day, and that leads to my second point. Our kids need to see us live out this desperation intentionally and faithfully. That is, they need to see it more than just on Sunday. They need to see their parents studying God's Word and crying out in prayer. Our kids need to experience us repenting of sin, especially when we've sinned against them. They need to see us valuing our church community and modeling service. Why? Because being desperate for Jesus is easier caught than taught.

This kind of everyday gospel parenting requires a level of intentionality. As Dallas Willard wrote, "Grace isn't opposed to effort. It's opposed to earning." We must be intentional with practicing the means of grace for our own personal devotion. And we must be intentional with family devotion, our living room proclamation of the good news. Develop habits and rhythms that work for your hectic schedule, and, if you are a pastor or ministry leader, also for the families you lead. 

It’s important, because transformation will only come when our kids see the goodness and greatness of God (Ps. 100:5; 112:2). Don't lose heart (1 Cor. 4:1-6). Be encouraged and energized. You can live the gospel life before your kids. In fact, I believe that you will, because he gives us his strength and power in the midst of our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). You might be surprised to notice that he's already at work.

Family Friday Links 11.10.17

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Here’s what we’ve been encouraged by online this week:

In light of last weekend’s tragic events in Texas, Phillip Bethancourt, had a post on the ERLC site about how to talk to your kids about it. He writes, “Parents must be willing to directly address the doubts and questions of their children. Will it be safe to go to church next Sunday?” This is the kind of proactive parenting all believing parents need to be engaged in on a regular basis.

Matt Blackwell had a post on the Verge Family site entitled “Raising Disciples”. In it he says, “Parents have to work hard to build a Christ-centered home and not a kid-centered home, because a kid-centered home produces self-centered adults.” It’s easy for any of to get pulling in multiple direction at once, but what we all need to remember is to keep Christ at the center. This a great parenting resource, pass it along to those in your church that need it.

Burk Parsons had a post on the Tabletalk site on the subject of being a faithful servant. He wrote, “The most essential quality of leadership is humility, and authentic humility is manifested by courage, compassion, and conviction.” As a leader, this is a needed reminder of our high calling.

What blog posts or online articles have you been reading this week? Leave us a link in the comment section and we’ll check it out.