Every year we get to this time of year and two things happen: People start playing music and other people start complaining about it. It generally strikes me as funny how Christmas decorations start to whip people in a frenzy. It is as if they have suddenly realized that this holiday is now coming and there is so much to do. I am one of the people they are annoyed with because I have embraced fully the season of Christmas. In fact, I look forward to it all year. I do this because it brings such excitement to our home (and also there are cookies) At the same time, I tend to keep it simple when it comes to Christmas. We set a budget and we stick to it. We do not use credit cards for gifts. We don’t waste time trying to impress people because they know better anyway. We just enjoy the season. There is no reason getting stressed out and maxed out in debt in order to celebrate the birth of Jesus. In fact, I think it misses the point of the whole season.
Jesus Christ came as a baby in a most humble way, to extremely ‘insignificant’ people and the world has never been the same. What are we to learn from that? I think it comes down to two salient truths: 1) Focus your heart on gratitude and worship and 2) Take time with people over time with stuff.
Focus your heart on worship and gratitude
The point of our lives is God’s glory. We exists for His glory. When we remember this, it makes each day significant for us. I realized that my life is in His hands and my heart leaps with joy. This is the heart of this season. God did not just leave us alone in our sin; He came so that He would die for the people (even me and you) that rejected Him. It is amazing that Christmas actually has very little to do with pickled herring. (and that is probably a better thing than I would like to admit)
Take time with people over time with stuff
We have spent time over the past few years helping family and friends not buy us gifts. We would much rather spend time doing something with people than receive a package in the mail. Sure we get our kids a few gifts, but we save more money for things we can do throughout the year as a family. This actually creates a better overall family atmosphere and sets up our family time as important and an integral part of our entire year.
So Christmas is coming and yes it is a good thing. Who knows maybe your humble Christmas might be the one Christmas you remember for the rest of your life and aren’t paying off for the same period of time.
It involves a change of attitude, which comes from small, intentional steps. That is what I keep telling myself with the attitude toward some people in the church toward children. I have been in churches where they actually said “let’s get the kids out of here so it is quiet” Sometimes the church brags about having children’s church for the kids, but it really is for the adults. In my own ministry, I have fought the notion of “keep the cookies in the basement” and “children should be busy during worship so they are not bored.” That drives me crazy because if you give a kid a cookie, he will ask for a glass of milk, sure, but just let them eat it wherever he wants and if you are encountering God in worship, kids will not be bored. We must go beyond children’s church! I often talk with the kids during the sermon or intentionally share something that will connect with them as well. But then again all of that only comes because I take time to be with the kids relationally. More adults need to do this. Talk with kids. Have a snowball fight, go fishing, throw a football around — whatever it takes. Show interest in them and remember their names. It makes what you say much more meaningful to them.
One of the big shifts has been creating a small group that is for families. What I mean is not that we have kids there and they do some sort of craft on their own away from the adults, but we have the kids and adults together the entire time. We play games together, eat a snack, pray together, and talk about what God is doing in our lives. This past time we spent time making notes for the shut-ins in our church and have ministered to them through that. The group teaching is geared at the kids, but the adults find the time to be encouraging for them also. Their kids are talking about God’s Word together! Is this not what the Church is supposed to be?
Perhaps one of the most telling events was our baptism service. We used a water tank for cattle and set it all up outside. This tank was a nice looking pool. That day was a hot day so keeping the kids out of it was very difficult. But after we were done with the baptism, the kids went in, some of them in their clothes. We maintained the respect for what baptism is and made sure we exalted God in it. But once that was over with, it was time to get wet. This is just another piece, I feel, that makes what we are about as the Church authentic and inviting for kids. This is important because if it isn’t authentic and inviting for kids, they will most certainly check out. But if we can get them to understand that the Church is them, now, then perhaps they will grow to be an active part of it.
So, I wonder — are there specific ways your church has tried to connect with children beyond children’s church?
I have not done a Lego Jar post in a while simply because my time has been limited. The who idea of the Lego Jar was to design a post that gave me a chance to write about all the various random events that take place. There has been no shortage of random around here, I assure you. I thought I would share a few pieces of the summer, mainly the fishing that we did. The problem is that I did not catch too many fish when I went with the kids this year. I wonder why?
The summer season has wrapped up, school has started, and the nightly battle for homework has begun. Don’t you just love the fall? Thankfully with the fall weather comes even more time for fishing, since I am trying to get my fishing day count up. I feel like I am making up for the years on Cape Cod that I didn’t get to fish too much. Yes, there was water on the Cape, but I had younger children. Taking younger kids fishing is as fun as tying knots all day long because that is what you do. Take a kid fishing and you will know what I mean. For an extra amount of fun, take a couple of kids fishing in a canoe! Thankfully we have done that this year many times and have had pretty good success with it.
Our most recent trip was on a canoe trail that took us onto the Mississippi River and then back. After my boys got over the fact that there were big boats out there, they enjoyed the time. There were a few fish and very little complaining. Usually no fish means a lot of complaining. My kids are growing up!
The thing about fishing with kids is that they want to keep every fish that you catch. In their mind every fish is a keeper. Now that I think about it, I do have a Northern Pike head in my freezer yet. That was not to be eaten, but to be shown around as proof that we actually catch more fish than the little ones.
This is the time of year when apples are starting to be more available. We were able to press some cider recently. The problem we ran into was that there were two bulls in the field that we did not know were there. All of a sudden there they were. It was a dramatic time for my 7 year old son who screamed “I’m too young to die” Needless to say, they don’t want to go pick apples in the pasture anymore.
Some people have asked me how the kids have done with the transition. I would say after a full summer of fun and a new school year that is underway, they have adjusted well. I was at a cafe for breakfast with the two older boys and they said to me “dad, I feel like I know everyone in this town.” I wonder how many people they will know after we have been here an entire year. Such is life in a small town.
As I wrap this up, I have been asked twice if we can go fishing today. Is that not what it is all about anyway? Each season has its own unique rhythm to it, but all of the seasons have fishing attached to them. Time to get on with it. After all, the only way you catch fish is by fishing.
It has been over 6 months since we left the familiar life we had on Cape Cod for a totally new way of life in Southwestern Wisconsin. Let me tell you , it has been a journey. We have found this community to be a huge blessing to us and our kids. We have also had opportunities to meet kids and families in the community that has only proven to make our transition smoother. My kids have developed a working knowledge of crops. “Hey dad, that looks like corn!” or “I think that is soybeans” have become common conversation. When we arrived here they thought that milk was only something that came from the milk store. Now they know what a cow is and will point all of them out when we drive.
This part of Wisconsin is quite scenic and not as flat as most people think. The sunsets are something to enjoy every night and the culture is just more laid back than we had grown accustomed to on Cape Cod. This has made our summer more enjoyable.
I have been able to fish more than I ever did on Cape Cod and we have actually gone to the beach more also. (ironically) The main reason is that it is much easier to get around.
On the flip side, my kids were not used to severe weather. Tornadoes had become such an obsession for my 7-year-old son that he has checked out every book on tornadoes from the library. I showed him slides from my storm spotting class and he has increased his understanding of things like wall clouds and shelf clouds, among other things. This has been fun to see him develop. That all changed a few weeks back when at 10 pm we were hustling our kids from their beds to the basement as a tornado quickly formed just outside of town. Once the kids stopped crying they decided we needed to move somewhere else. Our tornado chaser in training exclaimed “this is the worst day of my life.” Of course I told him “you are young” We only lost the tree in front of our house, but out of town they had true tornado damage.
We are enjoying summer as much as we can because we know that everyday is one day closer to winter. We went canoeing, went to Lambeau Field for a Packer Clinic for the kids, and played some little league.
But God has been so gracious to us and this is very simply my testimony to that. I know God has plans for our family here as we continue to walk forward and I look forward to seeing how it all plays out. In the mean time we are going to enjoy every day because each day is a gift. Make the most of it!
We are short-sighted people. What I mean is that we tend to forget all of the positive things when one negative thing shows up. This is not too surprising given the way negativity seems to overcome our lives. The car starts everyday with no incident and you don’t notice it at all. But when the car doesn’t start and you are late for work, well let’s just say that car has been cursed. I was driving back to church one time when the back suspension of my car literally broke in half. I had driven that car for probably 7 years and it had always been reliable. It was just that the break down came at a bad time.
God has been faithful to us again and again. He has been faithful to us in the positive situations and the negative situations. No one should have known that any better than the Israelites around the time of Moses. They had been in slavery and God delivered them out of it. Except they started to question God’s motives in it.
“That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud” – Numbers 14:1
Can you imagine the sound of that? If the whole community was wailing, it would be quite the sight.
“All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in the desert! Or in this desert!.” – Number 14:2
People who are stuck in their ways do not see things any other way. If you had been in Egypt all your life, even if you were a slave, that would be the only life you had ever known. There is comfort to the prison. But God was actually taking them to a better place if they would only trust Him!
The next verses show a discourse between Moses and God with God replying to Moses “I have forgiven them.” God is so gracious to us, even in our grumbling.
It would be helpful for us to learn a bit from this because their grumbling did prevent them from entering into the promised land. Our job is not to know how it all turns out, but to trust in the God who does know. The path might not always be easy, but consider the alternative to walking with God! I would rather wait on Him than wait on myself.