A Focused Home for Christmas

“How do I help my child focus more on Jesus this Christmas?”

A friend asked me that a few days ago. I love those kinds of questions. 

For me, one of the great joys of working in the church is having families come to me with questions about faith development in their homes. When families take the initiative to reflect and grow in their faith, I see people experiencing the joy and peace that comes from Jesus.

“How do I help my child focus more on Jesus this Christmas?”

This time of year, it’s a popular question in Christian homes. Because there are so many distractions, right? Gifts, cookies, parties … All Those Activities!

Just to be clear: Jesus and Santa are not doing battle. 

It is neither damaging nor inappropriate to participate in Santa Claus traditions. It’s also completely fine to ignore them altogether.

But as Christian families, we want to keep the emphasis on Jesus’ birth, seeing and enjoying all those other things as avenues for celebrating God’s greatest gift.

It is possible to help our children do that. It won’t happen overnight, or even in one Christmas season. 

But with intentionality and reflection, you will one day have young adults begging to read Luke 2 on Christmas morning and little ones drawing more pictures of Baby Jesus than Santa Claus.

These questions may help guide you:

What is my focus this season? 

Children prioritize the things that their adults prioritize. So ask yourself: What are my children observing as I prepare for Christmas? Do they see me spending time in God’s Word or scrolling Amazon for the perfect gifts? Do they see me choosing to worship before other activities? Where am I investing my time and energy? 

Who is my focus this season?

Children naturally begin to understand the gift of Jesus when they are actively engaged in giving to others. Create opportunities for your children to be selflessly generous: 

  • Adopt a tag from a giving tree and have your child participate in picking out the gift. Maybe they even do some chores to earn money toward the gift. 
  • Make cookies and deliver them to neighbors or local organizations and businesses. 
  • Challenge your child to do a weekly act of generosity of their choosing.

Where am I focusing my time and energy?

Children (even the teenage ones) crave the stability and routine of traditions, which create memories that last into adulthood. 

Challenge yourself to make Jesus more central to your family’s traditions. Here are a few suggestions.

  • Bake a “Happy Birthday Jesus” birthday cake on Christmas.
  • Combine opening a daily Advent Calendar with reading a daily Advent devotional. Candy+Jesus = Awesome!
  • Wrap up a baby Jesus from a nativity. Open that gift first on Christmas morning.
  • Research the meaning of the Wise Men’s gifts. Have your child come up with 3 gifts that they can wrap up for Jesus (perfume on a cotton ball, coins, spices, etc.). Place those under the tree for the Advent season.
  • Wrap up a book for each night of December (these don’t have to be new!) If your stack of Christmas books has more Santa than Jesus, consider swapping some out. If you email me, I’ll send you a list of my favorites

When am I choosing to focus our attention on Jesus?  

How frequently do you focus your family’s attention on Jesus? What dominates your conversations during December -- receiving gifts or serving others?

Everything we do, and every conversation we have, can be used to redirect our children’s hearts. 

  • Try a simple redirection – When your child says, “I can’t wait for Santa to bring me…”, you can respond with, “It’s so great that we have already received the best gift of all! Baby Jesus!”
  • Connect Santa and Jesus. A quick Google search will bring up  books that have Santa visiting the Baby Jesus. Try this one: Santa’s Favorite Story” by Hisako Aoki (link is to a read aloud)

Where, in my home, do my children experience a focus on Jesus?

My husband, Micah, calls this “Decorating for Jesus.” The things in our home tell our kids what we, their parents, value. Place items like an Advent wreath or a nativity scene in central places. 

You can even borrow our phrase when your family decorates this year, “Hey kids! We have a big birthday party coming up soon! Help me decorate for Jesus!”

May your homes ring with celebration this Advent season as we prepare for the birth of our Savior. May your hearts overflow with joy, peace and love. 

 

The Keys

There are times in this life when we are confronted with our powerlessness. We realize that whatever we do will have little to no effect on our situation. 

But when we're powerless, one of the things we have the power to do is to cry out to God. Instead of wallowing in this situation or complaining to others about it, we can lay before Him our powerlessness and ask Him to intervene. 

In the Book of Psalms, some chapters can be considered psalms of lament.  These lyrics express sorrow, struggle, and despair.  It exposes what every human being will go through as they walk this earth. Yet, even with its exposition of sadness and darkness, these psalms end as songs cried out in faith and confidence in God. 

Despite all the trouble surrounding us, God hears us. His Kingdom is still at hand. 

In the New Testament, we are told of the New Jerusalem, the capital of the Kingdom of God. So it says in Revelation 3:12

“All who are victorious will become pillars in the Temple of my God, and they will never have to leave it. And I will write on them the name of my God, and they will be citizens in the city of my God—the new Jerusalem that comes down from heaven from my God. And I will also write on them my new name.” 

What makes you feel powerless? What do you long to see made right in this world? In this place God promised for us, we will see an end to all the struggles and to all the lament. 

 

Who Owns the Keys? 

I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.”Revelation 1:18

At one time, death always had the last word.  Death was a prison cell with no key.  Jesus, the true God, died and paid the price for all sin.  Rising, victorious over even death, He is the Living One who now holds the keys.  Death is not final for anyone who believes in Him.  He has the power to save all of us. He has the last word. 

But there is also another key, the one described in Isaiah 22:22

“I will give him the key to the house of David—the highest position in the royal court. When he opens doors, no one will be able to close them; when he closes doors, no one will be able to open them.” 

To those God has called, He has given the key to the house of David, His Kingdom. 

 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”

 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.” Matthew 16:15-19

 

In this conversation with Peter, Jesus revealed what He was doing in the apostle's life. He has given Peter the power and authority—the key—to His Kingdom. 

But in traversing the road to Jerusalem, Peter will face a significant challenge that will test His allegiance to the man he just declared as the Son of the Living God.  When Peter was separated from Jesus on the road to Calvary, the apostle denied his Master thrice.  From being given the authority to open up God's Kingdom for others, Peter's act rendered him powerless.  But because Jesus still owns and holds the keys, powerless people like Peter can repent and return to the calling God has given them.  The same can be said for us.

 

Who Holds the Keys? 

Just as Jesus did with Peter, our Lord also gives us the keys. He lets us hold it so that we can have access to His most wonderful plan for our lives. He is the "I" who has given us the keys to His Kingdom. Nothing will stand against His church because of the faith He has given to us. We have the keys to His Kingdom. We have been given the authority to use this key to open up this sacred place to everyone who wants to enter. 

The second "I" who holds the keys given by God is you. He has given you this key for all the times you feel powerless. Despite the sickness, tragedy, struggle, sadness, and all other seemingly endless sufferings here on earth, Jesus gives us the keys. When you receive it, victory is already yours. 

All the struggles that come with our time here on earth will end when all things are made new. In the meantime, we wait and use the keys to unlock the truth about God so that people are encouraged and set free. We open up the door so that they will understand the gift God has given them through Jesus. 

We use the keys and open up the door so they can participate in the mission and answer Jesus' question, "Who do you say I am?"  

Take this time to think: Who needs to answer this with clarity? Once God brings these people to mind, help them find the answer as to who Jesus is in their lives. 

The first "I" that holds the keys has given you the privilege of holding the keys. Use this incredible gift to connect people to life in Jesus. Use this incredible gift to live in victory and power as you make the most out of your time here on earth.  

 
 

The Living One, Part 3: Forever and Ever

Have you ever had a sense of how amazing God is? As those who profess to follow the One True God, we often hear of His greatness in songs, read about it in the Bible, and see it in our own lives. But have we stopped to think of how great He is? 

In the Old Testament, we read about King Nebuchadnezzar, the greatest leader of the Babylonian empire.  Yet, he was humbled by the Most High God. In the Book of Daniel, the great ruler says this: 

“I want you all to know about the miraculous signs and wonders the Most High God has performed for me.

How great are his signs,
    how powerful his wonders!
His kingdom will last forever,
    his rule through all generations.” 

Daniel 4:2-3

 

When we meditate on the majesty of the King of kings, we will be confronted with how small we are.  It can create a sense of awe and wonder. It can help anyone to be humble.  Even Nebuchadnezzar was compelled to bow and admit his insignificance in comparison to the Living One.  

Kings like Nebuchadnezzar are built to humble people. Their mere presence commands respect and their word is law. Thousands rely on their authority and are at the top of society.  It is not easy to humble someone of this stature let alone seek an audience with them.  But for this king, the Most High God was the one who made him realize his own insignificance. God used the Prophet Daniel to lead him to repentance, bringing forth true enlightenment and restoration.  

 

Seeking Significance

When we encounter people with authority, we can sometimes feel our own smallness. Whatever form of authority, charisma, or presence they may have, it seems that they are at a higher stature than the rest of us. We feel insignificant, thinking that it might be difficult to get on their level.  

Many of us don’t necessarily need a reminder of our insignificance. We’re familiar with insignificance, and when we look at God, we are so quick to believe that He doesn’t care about us enough.  But here’s the truth: The God who created heaven and earth draws us to Himself. As we reach out to Him in prayer, He invites us to His throne room. By His grace, He allows us to approach Him and speak to Him. 

Pause for a while and think about how amazing this is. 

Being in God’s presence can create a sense of awe and wonder. It can help anyone to be humble. Through prayer, we are given the opportunity to approach His throne.

God pays attention to us. He cares enough about us to light the way for our wandering hearts. We are significant to Him. He loves us enough to discipline us. The Apostle Paul explains this to us in Romans 5:10-11

“For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. 11 No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.” 

In His power, God still makes sure to be involved in our lives by disciplining us. While it is not always enjoyable, it shows us His love for us that He would not allow us to give in to temptation and stray from His path. 

 

A Gift of Eternal Significance 

How precious are your thoughts about me,[b] O God.
    They cannot be numbered!
 I can’t even count them;
    they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
    you are still with me!

 

--Psalm 139: 17-18

When you're tempted to feel insignificant or unimportant, remember that to God you are so valuable that He sent Jesus to die for you to free you from captivity and to take you home as His child and heir. God pays attention to your life not because He needs something but because He truly cares for you. Our King, in His majesty, wants us to be with Him for eternity. As subjects of the King, let us “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever” (Psalm 118:1). 

This week, keep your eyes open to God's majesty. Take time to look at how great He is in the big things and how much attention and care He gives you. Think about the times when He disciplined you—how has it helped you? Or if you’re going through a time of disciplining, endure and remember it, knowing that it is for your benefit.

God’s loving hand is upon us. To the true King, our lives are worth eternity. 

 
 

The Living One: The One True God

Many of us actually enjoy figuring new things out. When we face something new and unfamiliar, we jump in and try to work out its intricacies in the attempt to master it. Then, once we have solved or understood something we once thought was so complex, we pat ourselves on the back and probably chalk it up to our smarts. 

But what happens when we face something that we can't fully grasp? Here lies the challenge for all figure-outers, problem-solvers, and mystery-uncoverers. At one point, we realize that even things that are spelled out are not all that they are made out to be. 

This is the heart of the matter— a person's rejection of God stems from a mistrust of something they cannot fathom.  For those who chose to believe, we have also accepted that mystery is part of our faith in the One True God. It is not something we can fully grasp or formulate in a few days. It is not something we can put in a box. Sadly, this truth causes people to turn away from God. Instead, they make and pursue man-made idols, worthless figures that will only lead them farther from the truth. In Psalm 16:4, the Psalmist says, “troubles multiply for those who chase after other gods.”

 

Embracing the Mystery of God 

But the Lord is the only true God.  He is the living God and the everlasting King!

The whole earth trembles at his anger. The nations cannot stand up to his wrath.  –Jeremiah 10:10

The thing about idols is that they are formed by imperfect human hands. To exchange the power of God for something superficial won't amount to much. However, many people still choose these idols—celestial, natural, human, or material ideas—because they can't seem to fashion the True God according to their terms.  Those who resort to idols have seen the mysterious aspect of God as a stumbling block. Instead of submitting to Him, they settle for less because they like overseeing their own lives yet project it onto another "authority" figure. In Psalm 115:8 it says that “those who make idols are just like them, as are all who trust in them.” Therefore, those who put their trust in idols become limited, lifeless, and powerless.  

 

In the Old Testament, “the Living One” was a title used to set God apart from all idols. Our God exists, and everything else that exists does so through Him. He is the living Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer. In the New Testament, we see Jesus, risen from the dead and alive, proving again for all to see that He is God’s Son, the Only True God, the Living One. In Revelation 1:18, Jesus says: 

“I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.” 

Those of us who believe and submit to God, we subject ourselves to the authority of the Maker of Heaven and Earth whose wisdom no one can fathom. Instead of trying to conform Him into a limited idea, what we instead experience is His revelation. We allow the Almighty to reveal Himself to us, in His majesty and power.

 

Three things about the mystery of our faith in God

Without question, this is the great mystery of our faith:

Christ was revealed in a human body and vindicated by the Spirit.

He was seen by angels and announced to the nations.

He was believed in throughout the world and taken to heaven in glory. 1 Timothy 3:16

Accepting the mystery can make us realize three things: The first is that mysteries are designed to make an impression that leads us to worship. Sometimes, it's human pride that hinders us from the greatest discovery of all—a rich and satisfying life in Jesus (see John 10:10) . But when we stand in the Presence of God and realize who He is and what He has done for us, we are struck in awe. When we accept that there is One whose ways are higher than ours, it leads us to give Him the worship that He deserves.

The second thing about the mystery of our faith is that it is designed to humble us. Trusting in our intelligence can also stop us from continuing our pursuit of God. Our Lord knows that there is a limitation to human reason. No matter how much knowledge we try to gain for ourselves, it will always come up short against His infinite wisdom. This is meant for us to depend on God and to allow Him to guide us and cover us as we journey in this life. 

Lastly, the mystery is designed to engage us in a deeper search. As we go through the highs and lows, may it stir up a desire for us to approach God. In His greatness, the Living One still answers us when we call (see Psalm 17:6). And when we approach Him, He is willing to show us great and mighty things (see Jeremiah 33:3). Isn’t this amazing?

When you get stuck trying to figure something out, humble yourself and thank God that He is the mystery of His message. Take this as an opportunity to worship Him, to acknowledge His power over our lives. And as you go about your work, continue to trust His guidance and provision. 

 
 

God's Heart and the Human Ego

The Old Testament prophet Jonah is usually known as the one who was swallowed by a big fish.  His life was a lesson about obedience and surrender to the command of God.  But those who would go past the first two chapters of the book will realize that he was more than a guy who was called to deliver news to a big city.  The prophet was tasked to proclaim destruction to Nineveh where he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4) The prophet was successful in his mission, and the people he had to reach responded in repentance. Here’s what happened after the announcement: 

 

So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes” –Jonah 3:5-6

 

With this kind of move from the city's people, one would think that Jonah would revel as he accomplished his mission.  To convince a head of state that he needs to repent and believe God can be considered a pretty big feat even in our current times.  And yet, it seems that the prophet wasn't too happy with his success. God's change of plans and His decision to show mercy to the once wicked people did not sit well with the prophet.  He was upset that God did not fulfill the words of destruction that he delivered (see Jonah 4:1-3). 


Having a Jonah moment

Like other characters we encounter in the Bible, many of us can relate to Jonah. He carried out his assignment but instead of bringing forth destruction, it was meant to turn them back to God. For those of us who claim to be believers, we love it when God takes care of us.  But whether we admit it or not, there are times when we are less than happy when we see Him take care of those we consider our enemies-- people who are different from us or even just those we don't get along with. We even question God when they get the blessings that we think should be for us. As we seek the blessing for our own households, sometimes we even wish that these outsiders would take care of their own problems! 


Having this kind of mindset reveals so much about our hearts.  However, we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves (see Mark 12:31), our enemies, and those who persecute us (see Matthew 5:44). We shouldn't be angry or question God when He moves in the lives of people we wrongly judged as unworthy.


A Special Form of Provision 

“Then the Lord said, ‘You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?’”

Jonah 4:10-11

 

In the last chapter of the Book of Jonah, God uses a vine to drive home a lesson not just for the prophet but for all believers.  God gives us a renewed understanding of God's heart and human ego.  Our Lord shows us that when we turn away from our sin, He is always ready to show us His mercy even when we deserve harsh punishment. On the other hand, our selfishness and pride is exposed when we see ourselves as better than those who sin differently than us.

 

When we think of provision, we usually think of it as God's sustenance and favor.  But there are times when this comes in a form that we don’t recognize.  Often, we already have a picture of how things will work out that when it doesn’t turn out the way we want it, we end up impatient and bitter. In the case of Nineveh, their provision came in the form of a prophet that called them back to mercy.  Every time the law is preached and it cuts through the heart of its listeners, it is meant to draw them to God so that they can receive forgiveness and mercy.  


A Change of Heart

“But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)”Ephesians 2:4-5

 

Jesus calls us to return to Him and lay aside our human ego. He encourages us to have a change of heart and return to Him for the sake of the world, our communities, our neighbors, and even those in our own households who need His grace. As people of faith, let us remember that the Lord works in us so that we can connect people to life in Jesus.  When we see God’s goodness and mercy at work in their lives, we must celebrate it. For every person who turns to Christ, God’s Kingdom advances. We bear fruit when we lead people to Jesus and show them an example of grace, kindness, and love. We show them that we are disciples by our love (John 13:35) and it brings glory to our Father in Heaven. 

 

Here’s a challenge for you: Don’t run away like Jonah did! Show love to a person you don’t typically get along with. Pray for your neighbors. Ask God to open your eyes to see how much He loves them. Allow the Lord to use you to reach out to them. You’ll be amazed at how His mercy can change a life—yours and theirs.