Christmas Love Letters from God: Journey Through Advent to Ephiphany

Around this time of year, parents begin asking me for thoughts on what they can do for Advent with their kids. In the past, I’ve shared ideas for some fun things such as the Christmas Song Scavenger Hunt (We love to do this at a mall during the holiday season and challenge another family to see if they can beat us at finding all the items) and some discipleship-focused things such as celebrating Jesus at Christmas in the everyday.

christmas-love-letters-coverThis year I’m excited to suggest a great book, written by Glenys Nellist, called Christmas Love Letters from God as a way that your family could journey through Advent and into Epiphany together.

You may recall that a while back I reviewed Glenys’ book Little Love Letters from God. I love her books because they do something many children’s Bible stories fail to do – they put children right in the middle of The Story. For those who have read my blog before, you know I really believe that the stories of the Bible find their greatest impact when they are told in the context of the larger story, the metanarrative of Scripture (read more about that here).

Why? Because understanding that these moments and events don’t stand alone but are part of a bigger picture gives them meaning and let’s us know that our story has a place in that bigger picture too.

In Christmas Love Letters from God, Glenys has done the same thing again by taking the familiar and beloved stories from Christmas and including at the end of each one, a personalized “love letter” to your child(ren) from God.

They get to read things like, “I’m so glad Joseph said yes to me…Never be afraid to say yes to me. When you hear those quiet whispers in your heart….remember that just like I helped Joseph, I will help you too” and “I gave my Son, Jesus, to Mary and it made me feel wonderful…because…Jesus wasn’t just for her. Jesus was my gift to the whole world and that includes you.”  And the letters always end with “With Love, God.”

My son loves reading these books and hearing God’s letters that are written to him. And he loves entering into the story in a very real and tangible way.

But what I love the best about this particular book is that the chapters line up perfectly with the Sundays of Advent and take us right up through Epiphany.

If you were to take one chapter each Sunday of Advent, Christmas Day, the two following Sundays which gets you to Epiphany, you will have journeyed together with love letters from God through this very special time of year.

  • Sunday, November 27 – Start with Isaiah’s Good News and hear about the Light that is coming into the world.
  • Sunday, December 4 – Join Mary’s Song of thanksgiving and think of how we sing Christmas carols of joy today.
  • Sunday, December 11 – Read about Joseph’s Dream and the plan God had for Joseph to be Jesus’ daddy and the plans He has for us.
  • Sunday, December 18 – As Mary and Joseph travel  Bethlehem’s Road, remember together it was God who was leading them all the way.
  • Sunday, December 25 – Celebrate together on Christmas morning the Jesus Joy of our Savior’s birth, the perfect gift, our very best present.
  • Sunday, January 1 – Consider that the story doesn’t end but invite your children to join the Shepherd’s Surprise that God had chosen to tell them great things, just like He does for us.
  • Sunday, January 8 – As you finish the season, with the story of the Wise Men’s Wonder, you’ll get to remind your children that the greatest gift they can give to Jesus is their heart. What a wonderful way to start the new year together!

Not only is this book engaging and grounded in Scriptures, it is also beautifully illustrated – one you will bring out every Christmas even once your children are grown. I am so excited to start reading this with my own family (Caleb has already had a sneak peek or two…He’s pretty excited) throughout the entire Advent and Epiphany Season.

Interested in getting a copy for yourself or your church?

author-photoThe author, Glenys, and Zonderkidz are offering a free copy of Christmas Love Letters from God. To be eligible to enter, you must live in the US and have a street address (no PO boxes).  To be entered in our drawing, follow this link and scroll to the form at the bottom of the page. In the comment section please write “Little Love Letters” and make sure we have a way to contact you for mailing information.

Winner will be chosen on Sunday, November 13, 2016.

The book is also available for purchase through Zondervan or Amazon (as well as a number other retailers). To hear more about the book, check out these videos https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kjKR8EQZIMo and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2E-W_cxXzlI


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook. 

About the author

Family(40)Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.

Pray For Me? How one simple question can bring together generations

cactus“Hey Christina, would you tell Naomi I finally found cactus plants at Lowes? There were 4 in a pot with gravel glued over the top. I finally chiseled them out with an ice pick and got them repotted…Anyway, the pots are fantastic and hopefully the plants will survive. She is a great artist and I think of her every time I look at them”

I got this text at 8:30 last night. It was from my daughter’s prayer partner at church. The pots she speaks of are clay pots my daughter had painted for her.

A little over a year ago, these two people didn’t know each other.

Melanie, my daughter’s prayer prayer partner, attends the 8:15 service at our church; our family attends 9:30.

Melanie teaches a Sunday School for older adults at 9:30 while Naomi is in church.

Melanie goes home at 11 am when Naomi heads down for Kids Church and small groups.

Melanie is older. Naomi is younger.

Melanie spends her week working and with her friends. Naomi spends her week at school and with her friends.

melanienaomiBut about a year ago, Naomi (through me) asked Melanie to pray for her throughout the upcoming school year. Melanie said “Yes!” and thus began a beautiful friendship. These two ladies have become bosom buddies. They have shared many special moments of laughter and sorrow; they’ve prayed through times of grief and celebrated through times of joy.

Both Melanie and Naomi have expressed how deeply they’ve come to care for each other and how meaningful this relationship has become in their own lives.  Melanie says, “I am humbled and honored to pray for Naomi. As the older generation, we feel we will be doing the giving. So so precious to realize that the younger ones help grow us as we are helping grow them. What a beautiful part of God’s plan.”  Naomi says, “When I grow up, I want to love kids the way Miss Melanie loves me.”

Recently I wrote a paper regarding generational discipleship in the church in which I state,

“Generational discipleship, passing the faith from one generation to another through relationship within a community of faith, can be difficult when a church is structured in a way that tends to segregate members by ages and stages of development. Creating space within the church for the types of relationships that support, nurture, and equip children and the family can be difficult.”

But, what if we could find a space to connect the generations, a vehicle that brings people together, regardless of age or service preference or location in the church building? Something like intercessory prayer. prayforme

The inspiration for our prayer program at church came from Tony Souder‘s book Pray for Me which connects children and young people in the church with prayer champions of three older generations. The commitment is simply to pray for one another throughout the school year. But our church quickly found that if you are praying for someone, you start caring for that someone, and as a result,
relationships begin to grow.

At the end of our first year of praying for each other, I interviewed our participants to see what they thought of their experience. What I found out was really quite amazing and worth our attention.

  1. Parents felt more supported by the church in general even though they were only interacting with a few prayer partners. Simply knowing that other people, older generations, were intentionally praying for their children made them feel more connected to the church and more supported by the faith community. Texts like the one I got last night are a huge part of that experience.
  2. Prayer Partners felt more connected to the families in the church. Instead of just seeing the families passing the hallway, they were more like to stop and ask how things were going, how they could pray for their child, and how they could be more intentional in their prayers. As a result, they began to feel more connected to the family as a whole, not just to the children they were praying for.
  3. Prayer as a spiritual discipline took on greater importance, not just for the prayer partners, but for the church as a whole. 65% of prayer partners indicated that the intentionality of praying for their child led to substantial growth in their own prayer lives that spilled over into praying for others including other adults within the church.

The conclusion of my paper read like this:

“One of the beauties of the church is that it can be an intergenerational community bringing people of all ages, including the elderly and the young, together to learn about God and life from each other” (Stonehouse, 2010, p. 127). In order for this beauty to be experienced by all who enter the church building, there must be times of interaction that take place between the generations; times where names can be said, hugs can be exchanged, faces can be seen.

While intercessory prayer cannot create that space, it can create a means by which names and faces can be made known and intentional thought given to persons regardless of age or service preference. As Dr. Catherine Stonehouse (2010) goes on to share, “Wishing for such an intergenerational faith community will not be enough; it will take intentional planning on the part of church leaders” (p. 128). Perhaps intercessory prayer could be the start of that intentional planning.

If you are interested in knowing more about how your church can begin an intentional intercessory and intergenerational prayer program at your church, I highly recommend grabbing a copy of the book Pray For Me by Tony Souder. If you’d like to know how our church put the program into action, feel free to message me and I’ll share what we did to create space for these prayer connections.

And if you want to experience the joy of seeing your child connect with an older friend who can pour the love of Jesus, the experience of a walk with Christ, and grow in their faith within the community of believers, I cannot recommend enough having them ask the simple question, “Will you pray for me?”

Quotes taken from Listening to children on the spiritual journey: Guidance for those who teach and nurture written by Stonehouse, C. and May, S. (2010). Grand Rapids, MI. Baker Books.


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook.

About the author 

Family(40)

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com

One Day Our Kids Will Google Us

It hasn’t happened yet, but I know it will soon. I’ve already been Facebook “stalked”, Instagram-investigated, and Iphone-snooped by my thirteen-year old. It’s only a matter of time before she puts my name into Google to see what pops up.

What will she find?  

Will she find the same person who she knows as “mom”, the person who has nurtured her and instructed her, disciplined her and discipled her, laughed with her and corrected her…or will she find something that confuses her?

Will she find consistency between what I tell her and what I tell others?

Will my words in the online world match my words in our conversations at home and with her?

For instance, I tell her to love God and love others.  Will that be evident in my online profile?  I tell her to be kind and to consider others more highly than herself.  Will my words reflect that type of heart?

I tell her to always seek to good, to defend the poor, to love the hurting, to stand up for the weak, to befriend the friendless.

I tell her that calling people names, making fun of others, criticism and ridicule, treating people as “other” and showing people disrespect are all, for lack of a better term, the actions of a bully and not how we are to live or act in this world.

I tell her that God loves her, has a plan for her, has a plan for us…for this whole world. That He is God. He is good. He is sovereign. He is our hope. 

And I have to consider, “When she googles me one day, will she find my social media self, my written words, are consistent with these things I am teaching her as truth, as right, as good?”

Friends, we are coming up on some very difficult weeks in this country.

Before us lies an election like no other we have ever seen. Passion in so many areas runs deep and runs wide. And words, often written on various social media platforms, are where those passions are often loosed and proclaimed.

May I humbly encourage us, all of us, no matter where our passions lie, to intentionally consider before we post, that one day our children will google our name.  

To ponder, “Is what I am about to post online in line with what I am teaching my children about loving God and loving others?”

To pause and wonder, “Am I using this post to build up or to tear down?  To call people names, make fun of them in any way, ridicule or poke fun, or belittle them as a person?”

To think, “If my child said this to another child, would that be okay or would they be in trouble?”

baby-84626_1920One day, our children will google us.

Let’s make sure that what they find shows them a faith that doesn’t waver with elections or compromise in fear.

Let’s strive to post our passions in a way that honors the fact that each person who reads them is made in the image of God, is loved and beloved of God, and is worthy of respect because of that simple fact.

We owe it to our children to give them a consistent message of who God is and who we are no matter when or where they hear/see our words. 

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me (Paul), what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. Philippians 4:8,9 (The Message)


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook.

About the author 

Family(40)

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com

How Dinner Can Be Our Secret Weapon

When my kids were younger, I worked in direct sales with a company that sold packaged foods (dips, desserts, dinners, etc) to busy cooks. On days where I had a party that night, I would often bake delicious treats, whip up yummy snacks, and prepare different foods for taste-testing. Inevitably one of my children would smell that baking cakes or simmering sauces and ask, “Is that for us?!”  And I would say, “No, this is for my party tonight. You guys are having hot dogs and mac-and-cheese.”

One day, my more outspoken daughter looked up and responded, “How come you always cook the yummy food for other people and we just get hot dogs?”  Oh, ouch…I hadn’t looked at it that way. I had looked at it as, “This is my job and I have to do this and I need something quick to prepare for dinner.” But the message my children were hearing was that I cared more about the strangers than I did about them. 

fancydinner

Fancy Dinner Friday

Out of that moment was born “Fancy Dinner Fridays” where each Friday night I would cook a meal fit for a king (or at least as close as I could get to that). The table would be set with nice dishes, decorated with a theme, and the food..well, the food would be the very best I could make with my meager skills (and budget). They loved it.

But what they really loved…was being loved. 

This story came to mind the other day as I heard my friend, Dr. Marilyn Elliot, share with a group about hospitality. She made the comment that “Hospitality is the most subversive weapon we have against the enemy.”  Think about that.

While the enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy, hospitality is where things are offered freely, life is celebrated, and character is built.

Now, put that in the context of children.

I often hear fellow parents and ministers talking about how we need to “fight for the souls of our children.”  Could part of the answer be as simple as being hospitable to them?  And by that I mean, welcoming them and embracing them in special ways that tell them that they are wanted, desired, and expected in our lives?

Consider this; Marilyn asked us to reflect on how it makes us feel when we arrive somewhere and two cups are set out, a candle is lit, the door is answered with a hug and smile. Welcomed, right?  We feel as though we are supposed to be there. We are wanted and desired. The atmosphere says, “Come in! I was expecting you!”

Now, contrast that with being met upon arrival with a cluttered space, a person with a towel on their head saying, “Oh my goodness, I totally forgot you were coming.” Even though we might stay, we feel awkward, forgotten, unwelcome in the space.

Intentional hospitality combats the sense of ‘not belonging’ that so many people face, so many children, face every day. Intentional hospitality says, “I am so glad you are here. I’ve gone out of my way to express to you how special you are to me.”  It brings with it a level of purpose and love that burgeons the receiver’s very soul. It is a weapon to combat that which the enemy seeks to steal, kill, and destroy.

“If you give a moment of rest, a moment of peace, to the person next to you – you are practicing hospitality – you are defeating the enemy in their life” – Dr. Marilyn Elliot

Are we being hospitable to our children, in our homes and in our churches?

At home, do we prepare space that is welcoming to our kids; space that is open for conversation and quality time; space that is prepared with expectation and intentional in experience?  This could play out in a number of ways:family-eating-at-the-table-619142_1920

  • Special dinner plans with the children in mind (Click here for conversation starters that lead to discipleship moments)
  • Special family times like Movie Nights or an evening at the park
  • “Dates” with Mom or Dad
  • Welcoming them back home after school, day care, playing, etc with intention
  • Asking for their thoughts in decor decisions or family plans
  • Prayer times that are just for them
  • Books that are “theirs” that you read together

What about at church? When children enter the worship space, is there anything to let them know they are welcomed there?  Not just in the “children’s area” but in the wider community? Things like…

  • Activity bags or Worship bags or Sermon notes appropriate for them
  • Adult church members who know their names
  • Places for them to serve like ushering or taking up the offering
  • Songs that they might be familiar with during worship
  • A verbal welcome like, “We are so excited to see our children and youth worshiping with us today!” or “What a blessing to see our kids and parents and grandparents all gathered to worship today!”
  • For more practical ways to welcome kids to church, click here

If Christian hospitality truly is a subversive weapon against the enemy, then it behooves us to consider, how can we fight better?  Hebrews 13:2 encourages not to forget to show hospitality. Interesting that the word “forget” is used. Because that’s where I usually end up when it comes to hospitality to my own family. I forget that they need to hear the words, “I’m so glad you are here! I was expecting you!” as much as my friends and neighbors and guests do.

“The kingdom happens over hospitality. We might miss the most precious of moments if we forget to be intentional in this.” – Dr. Marilyn Elliot

Wanna read a really cool story of hospitality recently featured in the New York Times? Click here


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook.

About the author 

Family(40)

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com

Practical Middle School: Four Ideas For Intentional Conversation

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to take our middle daughter on her own special weekend away with mom. We had a wonderful time together, both having fun and in intentional conversation. We covered awkward topics in a way that made the time together memorable and helped us grow closer together. Even though it wasn’t an exact match to her older sister’s trip detailed here, we covered the same bases, made the same commitments to one another and to God, and opened the door for intentional, ongoing conversations about the world, our faith, and how the two interact.

As this post states:
“By far, I think the most important part of this trip away was the message that was sent: You are important to us, so important that we are willing to drop everything to just be with you! That message of grace, of love, and of honor can be carried out in many ways, but it is oh-so-important that the message is heard. Intentional moments of discipleship in parenting necessarily require our time. But the rewards from that investment are lasting.”

r e F o c u s

Last week, I shared that I was away with my (almost) 12 yr. daughter for a pre-middle-school trip away, just the two of us; a trip dedicated to some serious conversations and some serious mother-daughter fun.  A number of you wrote to me curious about our trip and what those moments of discipleship looked like, so with my daughter’s permission, I’m happy to share with you a bit about our time away.

Middle school – just hearing that can immediately strike a chord of terror in many hearts.  Whether it is because you are reflecting back on your own experience or dreading the fact that your child is now entering or in that phase, the middle school era carries with it some unique challenges.  It is for some kids their first brush with “the real world” outside the relative bubble of care that most elementary schools provide.  For others, it is the first…

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A Time For Laughter (Because our souls need it!)

Lately, like many of you, my heart has been heavy. So many things in the headlines that bring sorrow. So many friends who are hurting. So many people to pray for.

I’m sure that you can relate. I’m sure that as I listed the items above, situations and people popped into your mind. I’m sure because we all live in the same global community, sharing the same stories of struggle and sadness, and hearing the same broadcasts of loss and disappointment.

I’m convinced that’s one of the reasons God gave us children.

Seriously, kids… kids have this whole approach to life that is incredibly present-oriented. They are in the moment. They live life to the fullest each second of the day.

C. S. Lewis, in his famous story The Screwtape Letters records a conversation between two demons who are trying to trip up some well-meaning Christians.  In the book, part of the conversation focuses on how worry about the past and fear of the future keeps people from being fully present in the current moment.

“The Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most temporal part of time–for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays.” – C. S. Lewis

In other words, the future has not yet happened; it is “unreality” as Lewis says in another place, and it keeps us distracted and worried. The past is done, it’s over, it cannot be changed and dwelling there keeps us frozen and unable to move forward.

But the present, the very moment we are in right now – that is where eternity dwells. God is present with us in this very moment. 

Kids live like that. They’re too young for worry and too innocent for regret. They are fully present in each moment. And they live life in that moment to the fullest.

Yesterday, I took my son to the park and as I was pushing him on the swing, he let loose with the most amazing laughter; full, rich, carefree and healing. Like balm on my weary soul.

Laughter, the true, from-the-heart, can’t-hold-it-back laughter, flows so readily from the hearts of children. Admit it, when one of those videos comes up on Facebook with a child laughing, you can’t help it right? You have to laugh too!  (Don’t believe me – click here)

And the Bible says that’s a good thing!
  • Proverbs 17:22 – A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
  • Psalm 126:2 – Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”
  • Job 8:21 – He will yet fill your mouth with laughter, and your lips with shouting.

There truly is something healing about genuine joyperson-1039148_1280ful laughter. It is medicine for the soul. It declares the greatness of God. It fills our mouth so that it’s not filled with other things.  And like the Teacher says in Ecclesiastes, “there is a time for mourning” but there is also a “time for laughter.”

Now, here’s the key thing about laughing – it’s not as much fun alone.

In fact, it’s not really all that great by yourself. Laughter is best shared with someone else. And, in my opinion, laughter with kids is the purest kind of laughter I know. Spending time with your children is the best way to ensure that you get to share in those moments.

Sadly the landscape of our society today makes that a little harder than in times past. Adults of different ages and children of all ages don’t get to spend a whole lot of time together. One sociologist, Mary Pipher (1999) said, “A great deal of America’s social sickness comes from age segregation…For our own mental and societal health, we need to reconnect the age groups.

With that in mind, if your soul is feeling a little sick, maybe what you need to do is schedule in some time with a healer – a child – a laughing, present-oriented child who, I promise, can’t wait to spend time with you!

Go have fun. Just fun.

Swing on some swings. Walk through the woods. Play a silly game. Let your soul bathe itself in joy. Choose to put the future in God’s hands, leave the past in His grace, and live fully in the present moment with eternity.

Need some ideas?  Check out these links for some simple ways to laugh with children.


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook.

About the author 

Family(40)

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com

Friends, Our Kids are Confused

Last night I was woken not once but twice with repeated alarms from my phone. An Amber Alert had been issued. A four-year-old girl had been taken. The entire country went on alert. Prayers were offered, however brief or fleeting. People took more notice of certain vehicles and blonde-headed little girls. For a moment, an anonymous person, a random child, because the focus of everyone’s attention. And thankfully, she has been found.

Over the past decades, an similar alarm has sounded within the church. A wake-up call for the church. Our children are going missing. I know, I know, you’ve heard that right?

 We’ve seen the statistics. We’ve read the books. We’ve heard the speakers. The rise of the “Nones” or the “Unaffiliated” is full of children who have grown and chosen to leave the church.

There are multiple reasons for this. Many theories have been offered. I’ve offered a few myself. But it wasn’t until recently in a discussion with a couple of kids did I start to see things a little differently.

And yes, it has to do with this election.

And yes, it has to do with us.

I’m going to share what they said. And that’s all. And it might sting. It did me. But I think we need to hear it.

I heard some kids discussing the election. They expressed some serious concerns about things they were hearing from the candidates on the news. Granted, not everything they were saying was spot on, although sadly, it was surprising how much they had picked up.

“I don’t understand…”

I can’t go on to tell you what they didn’t understand because they named specific candidates but I can tell you what confused them.  They had heard on the news some things the candidates had said and done and in real life, they heard Christians defending them. And they didn’t understand how Christians, who are supposed to love God and love others, could defend the things they had heard about.

They were genuinely confused.

They could not figure out for the life of them how to reconcile one with the other.  And these things were coming from adults they know, love and respect, which was even more confusing.

And I couldn’t help but think in that moment, “Christians, what have we done?” What message have we sent this generation?  Who can blame them for growing up and thinking that the church is, that we are, hypocritical?

Friends, I can’t and won’t tell you how to vote but I urge you, deeply, to consider what our words and actions are teaching our children, our grandchildren, and the children who see us at church.

This is an Amber Alert. A “Wake up, Church.”alarm-959592_1920

Our children are watching how we respond to this election cycle.

Are we letting fear determine our footsteps, our words?

Are we allowing God to be manifest in our actions and reactions?

If we had to stand up today and defend ourselves as believers called to extend the truth in love, would our social media platform defend or condemn us?

The alarm that Apple has chosen to attach to the incoming Amber Alert calls is loud, it’s jarring, it’s uncomfortable. I know that this post is outside the normal voice I write with. It’s loud, it’s jarring, it’s uncomfortable.

But I am as genuinely passionate about this as I can be.  I don’t want the next generation to look back at this election cycle and say, “That’s when I knew Christianity, church, all that Jesus stuff, wasn’t real.”

So if at the very least, after reading this, we can, for one brief moment, all stop for a moment, look at the children, and pray for them, and consider, truly consider, the words we are speaking and posting, perhaps we will be taking one step towards finding them again.


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook.

About the author 

Family(40)

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed,

Easy like Sunday Morning: Creating “Easy Wins” for the Home

Yes, we’ve all heard the joke: “Whoever wrote the song ‘Easy like Sunday Morning’ obviously never tried to get their family to church on time” or something similar to that. Sunday mornings are notoriously horrendous, especially if you have kiddos to get dressed, fed, and out the door. Can I get an amen?

But, that’s actually not what I’m talking about this time.

Yesterday I had the chance to sit in on a class with my husband and some of his (and my) seminary friends. The class discussion revolved around how liturgical practices in the church could be utilized to address current themes such as nationalism, consumerism, the sexualization of society, etc. It was a great discussion.

However, as the discussion continued, it became increasingly clear that the church has limited influence in speaking into these areas.

In fact, it became increasingly clear that if the message was going to be heard, it was going to need to come from parents/caregivers in the context of the home.

churhccomeshomeBut how?  How do you take liturgical and sacramental practices like communion and baptism and put them in the context of the home while relating them to the themes and challenges of the culture today?

In other words, how do you give parents easy wins, simple ways to connect Sunday to Monday, so that the home continues the conversation of church? You know, easy like Sunday morning. 

We need to think bigger.

We need to look at this whole idea of having ONE conversation in multiple locations so that when we are in church on Sunday, what we are talking about, and what we are doing, doesn’t seem new or different or foreign. Instead, when we walk into church, it seems familiar and natural, a continuation of the conversation.

Like with communion:

What if we gave parents activities to explain communion to their kids at home BEFORE their kids take communion at church?

What if, after Communion Sunday, we give them a few conversation starters to share with their kids about how communion speaks to consumerism and materialism (not with those words, but with that heart)?

What if we created round table discussions for parents to come to at church, not when their kids are 13 and in the middle of the pangs of puberty, but when they have infants and are preparing for this whole parenting thing and at those tables, we took communion and talked about how we can live out this practice in our homes through sacrificial living and experiencing God’s presence?

And how about baptism?

What if the words spoken, the commitment of the church to walk alongside the child and family at baptism or dedication (depending on your tradition) were given to parents to take home and review with their kids on a regular basis? Maybe even framed and signed by the pastor and members of the church?

What if we offered remember your baptism services and encouraged families to talk about their baptisms at home before they come to church so that baptism was more than a one-time event but a continual reminder of identity in Christ and as a member of the Church?

A lot of “What ifs” in all of that, but imagine if those “What ifs” became easy wins for parents/caregivers to have intentional faith conversations with their children and youth when they rise, when they lie down, when they sit at home and when they walk along the road.

Here are some Easy Wins to get started (and I’d love to know what your church is doing to continue the conversation between church and Home)

Easy Wins – Communion

At our church last Valentine’s Day, we created little “Take Home Communion Kits” for families that included a short liturgy, the elements of grape juice and bread which were blessed by our pastor, and a little lesson the Greatest Valentine Ever (Jesus). Families were able to celebrate together with a lesson that connected to the holiday of Valentine’s Day and reminded them of where True Love is really found. Need elements? Click here for what we used. 

How do you talk about communion with youth?  Here’s an article that makes talking about communion as easy as talking about eating dinner, something all kids and youth understand. This is a great way to talk about communion as community, literally “communing” with God and the whole family of God. And this conversation can be had over dinner a.k.a. “when we sit at home.”

Creative Communion, a book by Margaret Withers and Tim Sledge, actually has six session around different foods and snacks that actually helps open the discussion with kids about different aspects of communion such as gathering, confession, gospel reading, offering, communion, and dismissal. It’s a really neat approach using food kids love (like pizza) to have an ongoing conversation about the sacrament of Eucharist. For more ideas and more about the book, click here.

Easy Wins – Baptism

Remember your baptism – Many church traditions offer the opportunity to “remember your baptism” as part of their regular service. This can easily be done by the family in the home and parents can remember aloud with their children their own baptism and what it means to be a member of the body of Christ. Simply use water to pour over one’s hands or touch to one’s head and remember together.  Check out this amazing booklet from one church that gives baptism anniversary activities for the parents and children to do at home and remember together their baptism. 

Regardless of your church’s baptismal tradition, one thing we all agree on is that baptism invites us into the community of faith, into the Church, the Body of Christ. In an age where belonging and identity are often questioned, baptism gives us both. For parents, this can be a good way to talk to their kids when they question who they are and where they belong. Baptism brings us back to that place. Here are some links on ways to spark or have that conversation at home:


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook.

About the author 

Family(40)

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com

What’s with the Flipping Bottle?

If you have no idea what this post is about, chances are…

  1. You don’t have a middle schooler
  2. You don’t serve in youth ministry
  3. You don’t spend much time on social media

Because let me tell you, flipping bottles are everywhere.

bottles-60478_1920The newest craze to hit the middle school halls is the act of flipping a water bottle (or pretty much any kind of bottle) in the air in order to get it to land on its head…and stay.  Hours, and by hours, I mean hours, of time have been spent throwing bottles and have them thunk, thump, thud to the ground before the jubilant cheers of a standing bottle erupt. Some kids are really good at it. Some never get the bottle to stand.

But flip those bottles they do..endlessly..in hopes of the flawless stand.

Now, here’s the thing, the whole reason I found out about this phenomenon was because an adult was posting about it on Facebook. It was not a happy post. It went on and on about how annoying this game was and how they wished kids would stop playing it and how ridiculous it was.  Since then I’ve seen a number of similar posts, not quite as vehement, but still expressing frustration with kids for playing this game.

And frankly, I’m baffled.  

I feel like we as adults are creating a no-win situation for kids today.

This game is absolutely harmless. It’s creative and fun. It is not a video game, which we constantly rail against and say kids shouldn’t waste hours playing. It’s not TV, where kids tune out and lay around. It fits well with the message of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” that we have been feeding them for years.  It is generally played with a group and promotes friendship.

It’s free!  It’s fun!  It’s everything we want for kids…right?

But then, when they start exercising their imagination, talents and creativity, the message they get from from adults isn’t “Way to go guys! What a fun game! Way to use your imagination and find a creative use for that used water bottle!

No, what they hear from us is, “Please stop. That’s really annoying to us. Just go do something quiet like..play video games or watch TV. Just stop bothering us.

These kids can’t win for losing.   They are stuck hearing two simultaneously different messages and they will never be able to measure up.

And sometimes we do that to them in church too.

We want them to grow up with an active and vibrant faith. We want them to want to go to church. We want them to know and love God and to know that they are known and loved by God.

But we shush them when they are too loud.

We hush them when they fidget too much.

We remove them from our midst when they are annoying.

We even build them whole wings or buildings so that they can be loud somewhere else.

Now, hear me – I am not against having kids in age-appropriate ministry settings like Sunday School or Kids Church. In fact, I think those are really important opportunities for us to share God’s love and Word with them.

But, I do worry about the message we are sending our children and youth if we never create a time where they get to be with the whole church and they can see, hear, and feel that they are a part of that faith community, that they are known and loved by the whole church, and they belong there – truly belong there.

Are we sending them mixed messages like “Be creative and use your imagination” and “Be quiet and stop doing that”? Or perhaps more like, “We want you here” but “Here’s a better place for you to be”?  Are we in some way creating a “no-win” situation for our kids?  Or are we looking for ways to be both/and instead of either/or. To come alongside of them and join them in the journey.

It’s at least some thing to consider.

And while considering that… try flipping a bottle.

It’s actually pretty fun. 😉


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook.

About the author 

Family(40)

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com