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Making Jesus the Greatest Gift of All

Gift

In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, many parents try to carve out time to make the nativity the focal point of their celebration. This is an especially difficult task in a culture that wants to remove Jesus from the holiday season altogether.   Deuteronomy 6:7-9 says the best way to teach your children is to talk with them as you go about your daily life.  In our family, we made it a point to find ways to ensure our children’s focus was on celebrating Christ, not just on the list of things they were hoping to open on Christmas Day. We did not allow them to write ‘Christmas’ this way – ‘Xmas’, because it removed Christ. Today, we would not allow them to say “Happy Holidays.” Not that there is anything wrong with this sentiment in and of itself, but our culture is trying to replace Christ with it. So if a store clerk says, “Happy Holidays” to your kids, we encourage you to teach them to always respond with “Merry Christmas!”

To make Christ the central focus on Christmas Day, get a large empty box and put tissue in the bottom. Lay a Bible on the tissue that is open to Chapter 2 in the book of Luke.  Have a bookmark in John 3:16 and Luke 24:1-11. Place a cross in the box too. Buy chocolate wrapped to look like gold medallions and fill the bottom of the box with these. The medallions symbolize value and royalty. Buy or make a crown to place in the box as well.

Wrap the box in glittery gold wrapping paper with a purple bow (purple is the color of royalty). Don’t wrap any other gift in this paper. Make a tag and put the names of everyone who will be present when your family opens their gifts on it. Save this box for the last gift and choose a child to open it. If your children are old enough, have one of them read Luke, Chapter 2. The best way to keep children involved in a conversation is to ask them questions. Ask them why it was important for Jesus to spend time on earth. Pass the cross around and have another child read John 3:16. Ask your kids why it was important that Jesus died on a cross. Why couldn’t he die at home in bed? Ask them what they think it would have felt like to have nails driven into their hands and feet and left hanging until they died? Have a large nail handy to show them.

Give everyone present a piece of the candy and pass the crown around. Have a child read Matthew 2:1-2. While everyone loves babies, ask them if they think a baby can rule the world? So why did God send His son, who was supposed to be the King of the world as a baby instead of a full-grown man? Ask your children if any of the presents they received begin to have the value of eternal life, the greatest gift we will ever receive.

Have another child read Luke 24 and ask those present how they know Jesus is real if they can’t see Him. Have everyone share how their life is different because Jesus lives in their heart. Ask them why we get gifts on Christmas. This is how our family celebrated Christmas while our kids were growing up.

Carla and I wish each of you a blessed Christmas holiday as you celebrate the most precious gift we will ever receive with your loved ones.

 

 

TRADITIONS

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Dec

 

Traditions! What do you think of when you hear that word?                                                 

The dictionary says it is a “belief or custom handed down from ancestors for posterity.” If you ask someone if their family has any traditions, usually things they do every Christmas will be shared.

 

We know we have established traditions in our family. But once your kids get married, they decide for themselves what ‘traditions’ to hold dear. Some of what is priceless to them might surprise you. I (Carla) wanted to change the color of lights on the Christmas tree. We had used white lights for years and I was ready for some color. My husband and kids had a fit. Literally. White lights it is. Merging four families plus grandchildren into the mix now is quite the adventure.

 

Has it occurred to you that you or other members of your family can be so wrapped in the ‘tradition’ that you miss the real meaning or purpose behind what you are trying to do? Jesus talked about this in Mark 7:7-8, quoting the prophet Isaiah, “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. You leave the commands of God and hold to the traditions of men.” (NIV)

 

These verses got me (Joey) wondering how much of what we do personally is out of tradition versus true worship to God. As the stores are filled with Christmas cheer, I sometimes wonder if Jesus lived on earth today if he would come through and clear the stores out like he did the money changes in the temple. Please don’t get me wrong, in our home we put up many things that can be considered pagan, like a Christmas tree and wreaths. But we have also worked over the years to transition these things into tools to help us focus on the real meaning of Christmas which is the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We give gifts to each other in honor of His birth, but what are we giving to Him?

 

Let’s say you decide to do something around the Christmas dinner table this year. How could you know it would become an every year tradition for your family for generations to come? For instance, years ago, I found a Christmas quiz and gave it to my kids during our Christmas feast. It asked tough questions about the biblical meaning of the Christmas story. For instance, were there really only three wise men? I put their answers in a file and found it a few years later. I pulled it out and we all did it again. Afterwards, I showed them their answers from the previous time so they could compare and see how they did. When our kids started talking the next Christmas about what they were reading in the Bible about the Christmas story because they wanted to get the best score on the quiz that year, I realized I better get it out and add some more questions to shake things up.  It’s been fun sharing this test with their spouses. Our kids still read up on the Christmas story before they come to celebrate with us now, beefing up their chances of getting the best score, and adding questions of their own to the quiz! (Their goal being to stump Dad of course!) Tradition!

 

As you go through this holiday season, we would like to encourage you to think about the traditions you are establishing in your home. How do they bring honor and glory to God? Determine you will do advent each day or at least weekly. Let the sound of Christmas songs celebrating the birth of our Lord ring through your home. Glory to God in the highest!

 

    

 

 

Grateful Hearts

November

In today’s culture, thankfulness has gone out the window with other courtesies. “It’s all about me” is truly the mantra of most you meet. “It’s all about God” is supposed to be the mantra of Christians. When was the last time you actually stopped in the middle of the day and thanked God for something? Don’t assume anything is by chance or luck. Assume everything is by God.

Our son and his wife started teaching our grandson to sign the words “Thank you” before he was a year old. Did he understand what it meant? No, of course he didn’t. Should they have stopped requiring him to use it?

I will never forget when we first heard the phrase, “Actions precede beliefs.” (in GKGW) What does this mean? It means as parents, it is good to require your kids to give the action (saying “thank you”) before they believe it is a polite thing to do. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

When a child is old enough to understand why it is a good thing to be polite, the next step is for them to believe it is the right thing to do. Once they believe it is the right thing to do, they will start doing it (because they have already been in the habit of doing it) without intervention on your behalf.

Showing thankful hearts on a regular basis leads to contentment, a blessing in itself. I just saw on FB today where a friend and her two daughters made cookies, put them in baskets they had decorated and took them to a couple homes in their neighborhood where older folks lived. When they were invited in, the girls asked the older folks to share a story when they were the same age as the girls were. Mom said this was a delightful time for all.

You can cultivate grateful hearts by giving to others. Ask your kids how they can show their thankfulness for all God has given them by giving to others. Come up with a few specific things and do them!

 

-By Joey and Carla Link

 

 

Teaching Your Children to Wait Patiently

 

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“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him.” (Psalm 37:7)

“I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait, and in His word do I hope.” (Psalm 130:5)

As I was reading this verse about waiting on the Lord, I began thinking about how hard it is to wait on God. When we want answers from God, we want them now, don’t we? It’s really no different for children. When they want something, they don’t want to wait, no matter how old they are. Waiting on their parents to decide if they can do something is torture. A good deal of sibling conflict occurs over “waiting for your turn.”

Another word for “waiting” is “patience.” Patience is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23. Patience is a virtue, but how well do we as parents demonstrate this virtue to our children? Do you show patience when you are driving in traffic, waiting to check out at the grocery store, when your husband is watching sports and you want him to do something for you? It is not easy to wait, especially in a culture that tells us to go, go, go.

Teaching your children the character quality of waiting (patience), will give them a better ability to wait on the Lord when they become adults. How do you teach your children to wait “patiently”? Your children need to see you be patient before they will decide it is important for them to be. As more is “caught than taught,” I encourage you to pick one area in your life that your children can see you becoming more patient in.

Let your kids know you are working on the area you choose. Let’s say you decide to be patient when you drive. The next time you are stuck in traffic and your children are in the car, tell them how hard it is to sit and wait for the traffic to get going again and how much you want to say something unkind to the other drivers. Let them know you are working on being patient and how hard that is for you at that moment.

If your children are in the older elementary school grades and above, teach them why we need to be patient, when we wait on God to answer our prayers. He knows exactly when the answer needs to come. It doesn’t matter when we want our prayers to be answered. All that matters is we need to trust God to know when it is the right time. It is also a good time to teach your children that just because you want something, doesn’t mean it is a “need” God will supply. Mom could share she wants new furniture, but does she need it? Dad can share he wants a brand new sports car, but does he need it?

God supplies all our needs, but He does not give us everything we want, no matter how hard we pray for it. Waiting for God to answer our prayers the way we want Him to is not wise. Waiting for God to answer our prayers the way He wants to, shows wisdom and maturity. This is what it means in the verses at the beginning of this post when they say to “Be still before the Lord” and to “Wait on the Lord.”  Most kids want people to think they are smart. God thinks your kids are smart when they are patient. (Proverbs 14:29)

We want our kids to wait patiently, but how do we train them to do this?

Recently a mom stopped by our home to drop a few things off and we ended up talking. Her three year old son was standing quietly through our conversation, holding his mom’s hand. After about ten minutes had gone by, he was understandably starting to show signs he was done waiting and was ready to go do something else. I told her what a great job she was doing teaching him to wait. She thanked me and they left. Would your preschooler have been able to wait this long?

We know this family well, and we knew this mom worked on training her children to be patient. She has taught them to wait quietly with their hands folded for their food to be served when they eat. When they have video time, these three young boys each sit on his own blanket and are not allowed to run around and play. This mom uses things that are a part of their day as opportunities to teach her children to wait and sit quietly.

Teach yourself to wait first! We all have areas we can work on when it comes to patience. Then work on teaching your kids the value of waiting, so they will one day understand what it means to wait on God.

“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

Reflections on Suffering

REFLECTIONS ON SUFFERING

by Carla Link

Pt Jan 05 (18)-2

Joey and I were in a horrific car accident several years ago. A man fell asleep at the wheel of his car and pushed us over a guard rail when he hit us. Our van overturned three times, and although I was wearing a seat-belt, I was thrown from the vehicle. I suffered massive injuries, including a broken neck and crushed spine. I had 23 hemorrhages in my brain, and my family was told I would be a vegetable the rest of my life. During my 3 months in the hospital, I woke up one morning and knew who I was. Tests showed my brain was completely healed! I now know what a miracle truly is.

However, I must wear three braces to walk and use a walker, as I cannot stand without holding on to something. I sleep in the living room as there is not a place to put an elevator or lift in our home and I can’t go upstairs. I suffer constant pain from a nerve injury that will never heal on its own. God chose to heal my brain, but He did not choose to heal much of the brokenness in my body. I now understand when He says, “And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good…” (Romans 8:28), God means for our eternal good, not our earthly good. Having limited mobility and devastating pain is for my eternal good and I accept that.

When Christians ask my why God allowed this to happen to us, I tell them that He didn’t allow it, He planned it. We were on that specific highway while driving home from teaching at a family camp at that specific time because it was part of God’s plan for us. Then I ask them, “Why not us?” The Bible clearly states Christians will go through tests and suffering (James 1:2-4), and that when we do we are to count it as joy. Why do Christians think we should be immune to it? And why do Christians think God is cursing them when we are told to count it as joy?

When people ask me how I can be so positive when I face the difficulties I live with every day, I ask them if I should lie in bed and moan and groan all day, or would it be better if I get up, put a smile on my face and do what God is asking of me that day? There is nothing in our lives we cannot do with excellence of character. In all things we are to reflect the glory of God, including sweeping the kitchen floor while sitting in a wheelchair. When people ask me if it is hard not to be able to do the things I could do before the accident, I tell them that I choose to focus on what I have and what I can do, not on what I no longer have and on what I can’t do.

When people ask me if it bothers me I have gained weight since the accident, I tell them that I would be a whole lot more bothered if I stopped taking the medications that are causing the weight gain. When Christian ask me what un-confessed sin I have in my life which God is punishing me for, I let them know I am so relieved their lives are in a constant state of confessed sin or they should be afraid to get in their cars and drive home. I tell them God looks at the heart and my heart is not disabled.

People do not understand what it is like to live life differently than most, and I remind myself of this all the time. They have needs and I have needs. Our needs look different, but they are still needs. People have pain and I have pain. Our pain feels different, but it is still pain.

No matter what your pain is, the ONLY way to deal with it is to get on your knees and let God know you cannot live one minute of a day without Him. All God wants of us is to recognize our often desperate need of Him. To God be the Glory.