Let’s Make 2017 Mean Something

Our country is starving for kindness.

We are desperate for joy.

We are longing for peace.

This year a video of a woman putting on a Chewbacca mask and laughing hysterically went viral on social media within moments of being posted. All she was doing was laughing. We are desperate for Joy. 

This year, every major news outlet shared the story of a woman who accidentally texted a lonely teenager about Thanksgiving dinner and ended up inviting him into their home to share that holiday. We are starving for kindness.

This year, a video of a black man and a white police officer embracing and praying for peace together was viewed 1.5 million times within the first 24 hours and was shared across the world in that same time. We are longing for peace.

Our children are being raised in a time where feeding someone dinner is worthy of a national headline. Where two people praying together gets worldwide attention. Where a woman genuinely laughing is a novelty so unusual it leads to a global conversation.

 
As we come upon this new year, many of us are making resolutions, setting goals, and planning for the future. I have plenty of those I could make. We all do.

But what are all those things without kindness, joy, and peace?  If we reach every goal, but don’t experience joy, what legacy are we leaving?  If we achieve every resolution, but don’t know what it is to have peace, what have we really achieved?  And if things actually go as planned (which we all know is a rare exception) but kindness is a afterthought, what has really been gained?

What if we gain the whole world…but lose our soul? (Mark 8:36)

sunrise-1756274_1920

Our kids need us to make these things; kindness, joy and peace, a priority.

Our resolutions need to be to show them the things that are missing in this world. 

Resolve to show kindness.

Actually plan for it. Find a tangible way to be kind. Write it in our planners. Put in on our calendars. Show that kindness is a normal practice in the lives of a believer.

Celebrate with great Joy!

Not just on holidays, but in the everyday. Take the opportunity to laugh if it is offered. Stop for a second and look for joy around you. Capture it with your children and celebrate it together. Resolve to look up and out more often for the things that bring joy and share that with those around you, especially the children.

Pursue Peace.

Go after it with intensity. Seek reconciliation. “Turn from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it” (Ps. 34:14). There is so much hurt in our country and in our world. There are so many opportunity we have to pursue peace. Perhaps it is reaching out to a disenfranchised people group. Perhaps it is bringing cookies to your neighbor. Whatever it is, pursue it. And invite your children into it with you.

These things; kindness, joy, peace, they all have something in common. They are listed among the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22,23

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

So, ultimately, our goal for 2017 is really to bear more fruit. And the only way to do that is to abide in Christ (John 15:5). We can’t abide in politics or legislation or social justice and bear more of this fruit. We cannot abide in sports or clubs or hobbies and bear more of this fruit. We can’t even abide in church or ministry or parenting and bear this fruit. We can be fully present in all these places but we should be abiding in Christ.

We can offer our children, our world, the things that make their hearts feel again. The things that go viral. The things we are desperately longing for, starving for.

I want to try. This year I want to resolve to show kindness, to celebrate with great joy, and to seek peace and pursue it. I want to leave a legacy for my kids that is full of hope, anticipation, and expectation for the future. Don’t we all want that?

Abide. Bear fruit. Be kind. Be joyful. Pursue peace. 

Five resolutions that could literally change the world.

Happy New Year, friends. Let’s make 2017 mean something.


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 this Blog

family

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. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family and  Seedbed

2016 In Review: Top Five Read and Shared Posts

Friends, what a blessing it has been to share this past year with you. Your encouragement, excitement and support has been a blessing to me as I’ve had the opportunity to share my heart with all of you regarding children, families and the body of Christ.

This year over 500,000 new people visited this blog and shared its posts. Many of you wrote to me and shared testimonies and prayer concerns and amazing resources. Several of you called me, emailed me, or chatted with me about various experiences in your homes and churches. I have been immeasurably blessed to join you in your ministry journey. 

Here are the top 5 blog posts of 2016.

stopbullyingIt is NOT Okay – This blog was first shared in March 2016 during the intense political presidential campaign and was read on Day 1 by more than 300,000 people. While the campaign is over, many of the concerns I shared in this post still exist and I continue to pray that we can find ways to tell our children in no uncertain terms that many of the words and behaviors being exhibited by leaders in our country are not okay.

“I can no longer hide behind the flag of “I don’t want to be political” rather I have to state the obvious and say, “This is not about politics. This is about human decency and I, for the sake of my children and all future generations who are seeing these things, must say, ‘I am not okay with this because this is NOT okay.'”

kidsinchurchWhy My Kids Weren’t At Kids Church – Inspired by a mom who shared with me why her kids weren’t in Kids Church one Sunday, this post looks at the larger experience of the Sunday morning church service. This post continues to be read and shared daily and has led to some wonderful discussion with many of you as we’ve explored this topic more together!

“The church experience is much bigger than a sermon.Big or little, child or adult, the sermon is only part of the whole experience. Not understanding the sermon in no way negates the rest of the experience.”

kid-churchMy Kid Doesn’t “Get” Anything Out of Church – For the second year in the row, this post has struck a chord with people across the world. It has been read and shared in over 120 countries.

“One common concern I often hear from parents and other adult church members about including children in the corporate worship setting is that kids won’t “get” anything out of the worship or the sermon. From an adult perspective, there are certain things we want to walk away from church with such as a sense of having been in God’s presence or having learned something that will help us grow in our faith. We presumably come to church for a reason and it is easy for us to assume those same reasons apply to our kids.  But they probably don’t.”

bottles-60478_1920What’s with the Flipping Bottle?   – Remember that short-lived craze where kids across America were flipping bottles to see if they would land upright?  Here were my thoughts on the phenomenon and what we as adults could learn from the kids and the flipping bottle. Over 7,000 of you read and shared this post, helping it rise to the third most popular for the year.

“Have you seen your kids or others flipping bottles? Does it drive you nuts?  If so, you’re not alone…but, are we sending the best message to our kids?”

ChurchandkidDo Not Hinder: Welcoming Kids to Church – Making its appearance for the second year, this post continues to be read and shared in countries across to the world. The heart of this article is to explore what we mean when we say “welcome” to children in the corporate worship and fellowship of the larger faith community and has sparked numerous conversations, discussions and future posts.

 “It’s not about making sure we use strategies to keep kids occupied and from being a distraction.  That’s important, but its not about that.”

God has just blessed me so much with this opportunity to share life and ministry with all of you. Thank you for welcoming me into your conversations, your churches and your homes. I’m so looking forward to what 2017 holds for ReFocus Ministry and the work of children and family ministry across the world!


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 this Blog

family

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. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family and  Seedbed

Christmas Amplified, Christ Magnified

When I was young, I remember my dad getting ready to lead worship by putting a “pick-up” inside his guitar that he would plug into an amplifier so his guitar would be louder.  The sound that came out of the amplifier made it much easier to hear the music.

As I sit this morning by my Christmas tree and think back over the last year, my memories seem louder. I think Christmas does that. It amplifies everything.  Family becomes bigger. Friends become family. Gratitude for blessings overflow. Everything is special. You want to capture each moment, hold onto the feeling, embrace the season.

Unless you don’t

Because just like the sense of joy and gratitude is amplified, so is the deep sense of loss and loneliness that is present for many of us.  The empty space looms larger. The silence becomes deafening. And sorrow rises again as grief becomes palpable.

The Advent and Christmas seasons take the “noise” of our lives; the background hum we learn to live with, and amplifies it so it can’t be ignored. For the good things, this brings great joy. For the sad things, this brings sorrow. 

Enter Emmanuel.

As the crescendo of our lives rises in a cacophony of sound, there is a resounding cymbal crash as Christ emerges on the scene. His presence changes the symphony. His “God with Us” appearance overwhelms the noise. When we recognize His entrance into the song, everything changes.

The Psalmist declares, “Oh, Magnify the Lord with me; let us exalt His name together!”

Magnify – Make Bigger – Amplify. bible-1149924_1920

That’s what Christ came to do. He understands the noise. He understands the joys and the sorrows. He understands that our hearts are malleable; they twist and turn with each rise and fall in our lives. He came to be bigger than all of that; to be present in each moment and to be louder than them all.

In the sadness, to be Redeemer.

In the joy, to be Prince of Peace.

In the heartache, to be the Eternal Hope.

In the anticipation, to be the Messiah.

In all, to be our Emmanuel, our God WITH us.

I recently read a quote that said, “When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not join their chaos” (L. R. Knost).

That is what Christ has done for us.

He has come into our sea of big emotions and put out His calming hand. At Christmas, we can experience this more than any other time, if we magnify the Lord together.

And we can be that for our kids at this time of amplified noise. We can whisper in their ears, “Look at Jesus. He’s more than a Christmas story. He’s our Hope, our Peace, our Joy, our Love. He’s here to be bigger than our fears, bigger than our successes, bigger than our deepest sorrow.  He is Emmanuel. He is God with us.”

Merry Christmas friends.

And Glory to God in the Highest.. peace on earth…good will toward all mankind. 


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 this Blog

family

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. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family and  Seedbed

To Talk or Not to Talk…in Church

Please see Author’s Note at the end 

I had a great conversation with my oldest daughter on Sunday. We had the opportunity to broach the topic of “true love” and what that looks like in a Christian’s life. We talked about how sometimes true love has to say “No” even if it makes the other person upset. We talked about how we can show love to others, just by seeing them, instead of letting them go unnoticed. We even talked about how God’s love, agape love, was freely given and yet we have the choice to receive it.

And we talked about all of it…in church.

be-quiet-in-churchYes, in church, during the sermon. I know, I know, talking in church is a big “no-no”. In an article entitled the “Top 10 Rudest Things People Do In Church” talking in church took the number one spot. The author is willing to forgive some of the other offenses listed, but certainly not this one because, “There is no possible way we can please God or be His faithful followers if we don’t learn to listen.

Another author states, “If the Church is not on fire, you should not be talking.”

Hmmm….well, admittedly,  the church building wasn’t on fire, so were we in the wrong?

I’d like to push back on this particular thought and counter that if the Church isn’t on fire…maybe we should all be talking. Maybe we should consider how talking in church might actually be a useful tool for discipleship and potentially help us all listen well.

So, let’s talk about it.

To begin, what is the context in which we first hear about preachers in church?  I immediately thought of Paul and because I’m me, I thought about the story where Paul is preaching and some poor kid gets so tired that he falls out of a third story window. Fortunately, Paul is there to pray over him and raise him back to life. But let’s consider that moment found in Acts 20:7-12.  Was Paul really just monologuing from the front of a room for so long with everyone held in silence that a person could literally fall asleep and die?  Eh, probably not. The whole concept of church was a little different back then.

“Paul was not “preaching” to them. The American Standard Version renders verse 7: “Paul discoursed with them.” E.V. Rieu’s translation renders it: “Paul was holding a discussion with them.” The actual Greek word used is dialegomai. …that is, not by way of a sermon, but by a discourse of a more conversational character.”

…Meetings in the early church were much more fellowship oriented and casual than our current day church services. Everyone was expected to participate. The teaching was more conversational, with everyone involved. (Source)

Today, we call these conversational times “small groups” or “life groups” or “grow groups.”  They called it “church.”

Suffice it to say, talking was a necessary element of this church service. But ours aren’t like that, right?  So isn’t it rude to talk when the pastor is speaking?

I love the way this church pew card reads:

Relax! God put the wiggle in children. Don’t feel you have to suppress it in God’s house. All are welcome! Sit towards the front where it is easier for your little ones to see and hear what’s going on. They tire of seeing the backs of other’s heads. Quietly explain the parts of the service and actions of the pastor, ushers, choir, etc.

That “quiet explanation” necessarily means talking. A friend of mine who is the father of five children says what he likes to do is place two of his kids on his lap and whisper the sermon into their ears in words they understand. He says even he gets more out of the sermon by, well, talking in church.

Now please understand, I’m not suggesting we answer our phone and set up a hair appointment or turn to our neighbor and discuss what restaurant we are headed to after church. But when talking is done in a way that actually creates a context and space for the words being spoken or sung to find a home in our hearts….I can’t help but think that’s what church is all about!

What about the rudeness factor though?  If everyone is talking to everyone, who is actually listening?  Isn’t that in and of itself causing a disruption?

Yes. If all the people all started talking at the same time, yes, that would be disruptive.

But realistically, if a mother is leaning over to whisper something to her child or a father is sharing an insight with his son or a spouse with his/her significant other or a grandmother with a grandchild or… isn’t that what church is all about?  

Isn’t that why the sermon is even being shared?

If the words are sparking a thought, hitting on a topic held close to their hearts, or bringing to light something that would otherwise have been kept in the dark, isn’t it appropriate to lean over and quietly share that moment?

I think it is. I think it’s okay to talk in church. I think it’s part of this thing we call discipleship and it’s part of this thing we call fellowship.

And you know what else?  It makes the effect of church last a whole lot longer.

Because of that moment, those words, shared in a pew between my daughter and I on Sunday, the sermon will last long after we leave the building. The next time we are standing together in a checkout line, we will remember the conversation we had about seeing the person and loving them, not just passing them by. The next time I say, “Sorry, babe, but you can’t watch that show” we will remember together that my motivation is love. And the next time we sit next to each other in church, we will likely have another quiet conversation…because, that is discipleship; that is church.

Author’s Note: I’ve blogged about a lot of things on this website, but have never had the level of negative feedback this particular subject has generated (except during the election cycle). Some clarifications –  the conversation I had with my daughter was non-disruptive and quiet (not rude or loud); I am not advocating (as stated in the blog) long, off-topic conversations during the sermon; certainly the fact you are in a group should be kept in mind and deference given to others; and consideration of the environment is essential. 

Yet, with all that said, if we put such a high premium on non-disturbance in our modern-day church services, it comes with a cost…and in my opinion, that cost is relationship, discipleship, and compassion. I’d much rather see a brief conversation happen during the service that leads to engagement and discipleship than the rigid silence that leads to disengagement, boredom and resistance to God’s Word simply so one can escape the judgment and criticism of others. “All things in moderation” seems to me to apply to this situation as well as others.


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 this Blog

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. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on 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

Looking for Christmas at Christmastime

It’s Christmastime!!  By far my favorite time of the year.  I love it all – the lights, the smells, the presents, the shopping, the cooking, the eating, the laughing and the celebration of God’s great love for us.

I credit my parents with my love for Christmas.  Whether intentionally or not, they made Christmas a magical time for us every year.

I remember Dad putting together the Christmas Village on the window seat in our home, complete with streets made of tape and fake snow in the window.

I remember opening the pictures on the advent calendar and reading the verses that led us up to Christmas day.

I remember big, fat colored Christmas lights, hunting for Christmas trees with my family, drinking mom’s real eggnog, and sitting under the lit-up tree while Dad told us the gospel story using the tree as his text.

child-1867394_1920As I’ve grown older, I have striven not to lose that magical feeling.  I’ve watched as others my age and older grow focused on the things that hide the beauty of this season.  So much complaining and frustration, so much commercialization and stress, so much focus on money and things and so little time spent on soaking in the joys and blessing of the season.

But for me… bright colored lights against a night sky are still magical!  Decorated trees are beautiful, Christmas cookies are tasty, ringing bells are festive and the Nativity Story is timeless.  Even if I can’t always handle the Christmas sales and shopping and the hustle and bustle of the season, I can always stop and appreciate what is there and see the mystery and awe of the celebration.

And I see it in the most unusual places; places that you may associate with the “worst” of the Christmas season, places like… Walmart.

I think Walmart probably epitomizes to most of us who are frustrated with the commercialization of Christmas.  Walmart is all about money – bottom line; “Christmas is nice and all but how do we get the most money out of this season?”  They are a business and they run like one.  And, regardless of whether it’s Christmas or not, we tend to not like the big-box business that Walmart represents.

But a few years ago, I went to there to buy a few groceries and finish (again) my Christmas shopping.  As I walked in, I instantly felt uncomfortable because there were police officers everywhere.  I thought maybe the store had been robbed or there was a fugitive on the loose or something equally terrible had happened.

But soon I realized the police officers were there for another reason.   A beautiful reason.  A Christmas reason.

I watched as families who were hurting financially this Christmas season were assigned a police officer that took them over to the toy section of the store with a calculator and credit card in hand.

I watched an officer get down on his knees beside a little boy who looked scared to ask for anything and say, “How about a bike, buddy?  Would you like a bike for Christmas?” and then watched as this little boy’s eyes grew wide with astonishment and cried, “Can I really? A new bike for me?” and threw his arms around the officer’s neck.

I watched a father quietly tell the officer he was with how grateful he was for this service, how he’d never been out of a job before and he didn’t know how he would be able to get even one gift for his kids if it wasn’t for them.

I watched a young single mom walk through the infants section filling up on things like clothes, diapers, wipes and blankets for her little one and the young officer with her saying, “Are you sure you don’t want to get any toys?” while she quietly shook her head and said, “This is what we really need.”

Over and over again, I had to go hide in another aisle and wipe away my tears as I watched children laugh, fathers cry, mothers hug and officers glow.

I could tell you about the other things I saw at Walmart.  I saw sales and high prices.  I saw carts full of toys and trinkets that would probably break in a week.  I saw commercialization and depersonalization of Christmas.  I saw all of that too.  Because it’s all there.  All the time.

But that’s not what I left the store remembering.

 I saw Christmas, the real beautiful Christmas I have loved my whole life.  I saw LOVE and my God is is LOVE. And I have the chance to pass on that legacy to my kids.

There will always be reason to find things that are wrong with the season.  I’m not going to defend them and say that they are right.  But I am going to choose to find the reasons for joy and to teach my children to do the same.

We are going to celebrate together the love the we commemorate at Christmas.

We are going to “ooo” and “ahh” over lights and eat way too many cookies.

We are going to carol to our neighbors and watch Christmas movies.

We are going to sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus and remember once again that God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son.

And we are going to enjoy all the season has to offer because, you know what, it’s worth enjoying.  

At the end of my kids time in our home, I doubt they remember how commercialized and empty the Christmas season is “out there”.  I bet they remember how beautiful, love-filled, and Christ-centered Christmas was “in 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 this Blog

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

A Little Disruption

When it comes to children being present in the congregational worship service, there are many thoughts and opinions out there. Some say children should be separate from adults, in their own space, learning at the their own level. Some say children should be fully integrated, learning and worshiping with the adults at every level. And then, in-between the two, is every possible combination of separation and integration one can think of.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that I fall squarely in the middle – I’m a big believer in the “both/and” approach.

I think it is vitally important for children to have the opportunity to worship and be in community with the larger congregation and it is also important to have space for children to learn and grow at their developmental level.

Both of these scenarios present unique opportunities and challenges; both require us to adjust, reflect, and serve each other and the children; both have a part to play in raising the next generation; and both require the entire community to embrace their role as disciplers – as legacy-leavers – as faith formers.

The following post was not written by me, but by a fellow mom and pastor’s wife who found herself in a situation that caused her to question and consider the importance of children being welcomed into worship. She shares, not to rant or vent, but rather to spur on conversation about the “whys” of having space in our congregational worship for disruption.

The Children Matter!

Julie Choi

I wasn’t going to say anything about this, but the more I think about it, the more I feel like I have to speak up. This is important. A few weeks ago, at church, my son and I were in service and he was walking around the back. He was excited to be there and excited to see his friends. A woman turned around and whispered to someone else, “She needs to control her child.” I’m not just saying this to defend my son, but I don’t think he was being too disruptive. I think he was being three.
Let me tell you something about my son…and my daughter…and all children. They are not a disruption! Did you hear me? Let me say it again. My child, no child is a disruption and if you think they are – oh my, you have another thing coming. My son, my daughter, and children out there in the world are world changers. They are the future. They are bright lights in our cynical and sometimes dark world. They are curious. They are eager to learn. They are gifts from God Himself.
church-595701_1920After this “incident” I took it upon myself to read a few articles and found out that there is a church in South Carolina that actually does not permit children into their main service. The doors get locked after the sermon starts.  Another church in Chicago put out a statement, “We make it a priority on creating an environment that helps people worship without distractions during the service. By providing a variety of venues where people may view services, no one has to miss the message, regardless of their circumstances. We rarely have issues with disruptions during the service, but if one arises, the Guest Ministry team assess the situation and takes appropriate next steps, which could mean respectfully suggestion one of the alternative viewing options.
Wait, what?! They’re going to “respectfully” suggest you get out? In church? Ok, so quick question? If a child is crying or being loud in service that’s disruptive, but what if an elderly person has a heart attack mid-service? Is that a disruption? If someone walks into service late are they disrupting the service? But wait…aren’t we supposed to bear each others burdens and understand one anther’s shortcomings as a church family?

Listen folks. I’m not writing this in anger. Honest! This isn’t some angry mom rant. If you know me, you know I am all about manners. My kids will say “thank you, please, sorry, yes ma’am, no ma’am” and if my daughter cries in service, I’ll quietly and quickly walk out to calm her down before coming back. But all that energy spent on “avoiding disruptions” seems like such a waste of time.

An article I read offered the following thoughts:

“I’m not sure God cares all that much about disruptions (he has a long history of disrupting things himself). But also because I think God’s more concerned with us welcoming folks into his house – and extending love and grace – than he is about making sure people mind their p’s and q’s perfectly while they’re here. It seems these churches we hear about that shuttle disrupters out of a service care more about the comfort of the people in the pews than they do about the glory of God….But I have found the Holy Spirit to be wonderfully disruptive, sometimes upsetting our plans and timing, and to be faithful,…”

Look I get it. Sometimes, people just want to pay full attention to the sermon, but life is not without “disruption”. But to say that a child is the disruption. That just rubs me the wrong way. Moms are so worried in church as it is. They don’t need someone to turn around and look at them with an angry glare or judgement.

For me, I can deal with that, but imagine that had happened to a new mom that was visiting the church? Imagine that happened to a mom who isn’t as secure. She might never return! Serious question: WHY is there even a debate about this? WHY is this a controversial topic? WHY is this a sensitive issue? Sure, I could send my kid to “children’s church”, but what if I want to worship as a family? I want my son and daughter in the service to hear their dad preach, to use the moment as a teachable moment, to pray with them, sing with them.
Another blogger wrote in her own personal blog,

“I see them learning. In the midst of the cries, whines, and giggles, in the midst of the crinkling of pretzel bags and the growing pile of crumbs I see a little girl who insists on going two pews up to share peace with someone she’s never met. I hear a little boy slurping (quite loudly) every last drop of his communion wine out of the cup determined not to miss a drop of Jesus. I watch a child excitedly color a cross and point to the one in the front of the sanctuary.  I hear the echoes of Amens just a few seconds after the rest of the community says it together. I watch a boy just learning to read try to sound out the words in the worship book or count his way to Hymn 672. Even on weeks when I can’t see my own children learning because, well, it’s one of those mornings, I can see your children learning.”

It matters. This matters! I wholeheartedly believe in family worship services. I can’t change the world. I can’t change someone else’s mind, especially once it’s made up, but this is my rather puny attempt to get people thinking. It matters. Children matter.

About the Author: Julie Han-Choi is a wife, mom, counselor, and teacher. She and her husband, Pastor Brian Choi are the parents of two beautiful children and one angel baby and are passionate about intergenerational/family worship. Julie’s dream and vision is to start a small, Christian, Montessori-style charter school that offers a “whole child” philosophy. 


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 this Blog

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

A Birthday Party For Jesus

 

I’m excited to welcome guest blogger, Rebecca Clay, to share with us about her fabulous idea for a Birthday Party for Jesus that your kids will never forget!  If you are looking for a fun and unique way to celebrate the birth of Christ with your kids at home or at church, look no further. Thank you, Rebecca, for sharing your creativity with us!


A Birthday Party for Jesus

Christmas is coming! Christmas is a time of year where we celebrate the most special birth that has ever taken place. JESUS came to Earth to walk among us and eventually would die for our sins. For JESUS’ birthday, we celebrate with the biggest birthday party of the year. Most people have the day off of work. We exchange gifts, sing songs, and have big family meals together.SONY DSC

Today we are going to have a birthday party for JESUS right here, give JESUS the gift of your listening ears as we go through the story of HIS very special birth and find out what games we are going to play to celebrate with HIM.

Mary was a young woman who loved GOD. An angel appeared to her one day to tell her that she was going to have a baby. Mary was confused because she wasn’t married yet. How was she going to have a baby? The Angel told her that this baby was very special. HE was going to be the Savior of the world. HIS name was to be called JESUS.

Mary was excited to be chosen by GOD, but she had to be afraid of what people would say and that she would be judged and stoned for having a baby before marriage. When Joseph was told about the baby, he was afraid to take Mary as his wife as well. An angel came to him and told him to marry her. She was still pure, and chosen by GOD.

It didn’t matter what others said or thought, the important thing was that they listened to the Angel to get the message from the source.

Game #1 –  Telephone – Start with a phrase. You can supply them on strips of paper or you can allow the children to come up with them on their own. Line them up and only let the first child know the phrase. They whisper it to the child next to them and then go down the line until the last child hears it and announces to everyone what the message they heard was. The message is likely to have changed between children to draw your point about ‘getting news from the source’.

Caesar Augustus made a decree that it was time for them to travel to pay their taxes. Since Joseph was a descendant of David, he had to return to Bethlehem to pay his taxes. They left Galilee and traveled the long journey together.

Mary was very pregnant and the trip was long. It was not an easy time to travel with no vehicles or true way to cool down.

Game #2 – Spoon Relay – Get a small cup or bowl of something. Goldfish/Cereal/Play coins. Have the children take a spoon and get the items in them, carrying them one at a time across the room to a designated spot until all of their coins have been moved across the room. For older children you could have them carry the spoon in their mouth and try not to drop anything to add to the challenge.

OR

Game #2 – Pin the Tail on Mary’s Donkey – Put up an image of a tail-less Donkey on the wall. Cut out multiple tails and allow each child to have one with tape on the back. Blindfold them one at a time and allow them to try to get the tail in the proper place on the donkey.

Everyone had to pay their taxes, and so the town was filled with people who had traveled on their own to pay the taxes they owed as well. Every Inn in town was filled and there were no rooms available for them to rent. They traveled from each place – searching for a bed to sleep in, exhausted from their long journey. Mary knew that the baby would be born soon and was looking for a place to have the baby while they stayed.

Game #3 – Musical Chairs – Group children by size. Set up clusters of chairs, one less than the amount of children that are in each group. As you play music, children march around the chairs. Once the music stops, the children race to find a seat before the others do. The person left standing is out. Take away one chair each time until you are left with only one chair. Whoever gets to the chair the last time is the winner.

Finally they found an Inn where they were offered a place to stay out in the stables where all of the animals of the lodgers were staying. It was dirty and cold and smelly, but it was a place with a roof and hay that they would be able to make their own beds to lay in out of. There in that stable, baby JESUS was born. Mary wrapped the baby up to keep him warm, and found a special place to lay him in a manger – the special trough that the animals would normally eat off of. There in the manger, the baby would be warm and safe for the night.

Game #4- Safe place – Gather blocks of different sizes and types. Allow children to build up some kind of contraption that they believe would work as a good bed for the baby. Then allow them to test it out by placing an egg on it to see if it can support the weight and keep it safe. (If you are not feeling so bold, you can use a small ball in place of the egg)

In the fields just outside of town, there were Shepherds taking care of their sheep. It was a quiet night as they watched over the animals to keep them safe. Suddenly an angel appeared in the sky in front of them. The angel said “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” Then the sky filled with angels. They all began to sing; “Glory to GOD in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

Once the angels left and the sky was back to normal, the shepherds decided to go into town and look for the baby that the angels told them about. They were excited to see the newborn king for themselves. They were eager to travel around and share the news of the birth throughout the town.

Game #5 –  Pass the Good News – “Hot Potato” with a toy star. The children passed a toy star around in a circle as we played some more Christmas music. When the music stopped, whichever child was holding the star would announce “JESUS is born!” We allowed the children to stay in the game and just made sure to stop on each of the children.You can have each of the children who get to call it out sit out of the game while it continues.

Above the stable where JESUS was born, a new star appeared in the sky. There were wise men from the Far East who studied the skies. They saw the star and recognized it as a sign of the great gift that was given to the Earth. They decided to follow the star to find the newborn king. Their journey was long and took them years to complete, but they kept their eyes trained on the star and followed it all the way to Jerusalem.

Game #6 – Follow the Star – The children each take a turn being “the leader”. They get to be at the front of the group and moves around the area in whatever way they want to (skip, zig zag, pretend to swim, jump, wiggle..) the others mimic the actions. We typically allow each child thirty seconds to a minute of being the leader and then “the leader” moves to the back of the line and the next person becomes the new leader and takes over.

While the Wise men traveled across the land to find JESUS, HE continued to grow older. Just like any other baby, HE depended on HIS mother for food and care. HE had to learn how to walk and crawl and talk just like all of you did.

Game #7 – Baby Crawl Race – Designate a Starting line and a finish line and have children race on their hands and knees in a crawl like a baby. Make it a relay by placing a baby toy at the “finish” line and having them pick it up and carry it back to the starting line. Whoever gets there first in each race wins.

When the Wise Men got to Jeruselem, they went to the palace to ask the King where they could find the new King of the Jews. Herod found scribes and biblical scholars to tell him where he could find baby JESUS. He told the Wise Men that he had been born in Bethelham to find him, asking them to return to him so that he could return to worship the baby as well. Herod did not plan to worship the baby but to kill him, because he was worried that JESUS was a threat to him as the king.

The Wise Men found Baby JESUS and brought him special gifts of gold and expensive spices and oils. But the angel came to them and warned them to return to their own land in a different path to avoid going to Herod again, because he had evil plans for the baby. That left Herod angry as he searched on his own for the baby.

Game #8 – Four Corners – Label four corners of the room with numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4. Pick “Herod” to stand in the middle and cover their eyes. The rest of the children pick corners to stand in and Herod calls out a number. Everyone standing in that corner is out. (If Herod says “three” everyone in the corner labeled three is out). The game continues until there is only one child left.

Herod was left guessing, but the angel told Joseph in a dream that they were in danger and led him to Egypt to hide in safety until king Herod died and the angel came back to tell them that it was safe to return to their home. Because of this protection, JESUS was able to grow into an adult who healed and ministered to people. People learned that when they followed JESUS’ lead and did what HE told them to, that miracles would happen.

Game #9 – Jesus Says – One child is selected to be “Jesus”. They give simple orders for others to follow. If an order is prefaced with “Jesus says” the children should do the action. If they omit the “Jesus says” and just give an action, the children should ignore it.

About the Guest Blogger: Rebecca Clay is a stay at home mom of three children who has been serving in children’s ministry for nine years. As a student she was an Early Childhood Education major, she is passionate about reaching children where they live through kinesthetic lessons, puppet and movement ministry and fervent prayer. She blogs about her personal blessings from her experiences serving and working with children at AsAChild.freeblog.site.


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

When the Christmas Story becomes Bigger: Telling the Whole Story at Christmas

 

It’s Christmas Time!  And oh, how we love to tell the Christmas story. We share it in pageants and cantatas; we read it in bedtime stories and Advent prayers, we sing it in carols and choirs. What a beautiful story it is of Love sent down, of Joy proclaimed and of Peace realized in the form a little baby, the Prince of Peace.

But what makes the story even more beautiful is when it is told in the context of the larger metanarrative of Scripture.

When we tell the whole story, the Love portrayed becomes that much more powerful; the Joy proclaimed becomes that much more glorious; and the Peace realized becomes that much more tangible.

The Story below is shared using four small props and would be appropriate for a church setting (service, Kids Church, Sunday School, etc) or a home setting (bedtime, around the tree, dinner table). I’ve shared the Christmas story this way in many places with many people and each time, there’s a deeper realization of the immense beauty found in the gift of Immanuel, God with us.

“The Whole Christmas Story”

Props: 2 red hearts, one black lightening bolt, one brown cross. (I cut mine out of construction paper)photo

Gather your church or your family together and pick one person to be the story teller. Everyone else will help with the props.

Okay you guys, I need your help today to tell a story. And this isn’t just any story; this is THE STORY. The story of all time! And you get to be a part of it!! So, who wants to be my first helper?

(Choose someone to hold Red Heart)

All great stories have a great first line. Usually we say “Once upon a time” but… How about we start it this way… In the beginning, God created… EVERYTHING! He created the earth and the sky, the bugs and the fish, the trees and the flowers, and then he created us. And when he did, he looked at us and said, “Man (because there was only a man at first) I love you!” And Man looked at God and said, “God, I love you too!” And everything was perfect.

(Choose child to hold Black Lightening Bolt)

Then one day, something terrible happened. Everything was perfect. God loved Man and Man loved God and all was well until… Well, as you know, every story has to have an evil villain so we are going to call our evil villain.. SIN. (refer to black lighting bolt).   Sin snuck right into that perfect world, being the sneaky villain that it is and it BAM! Came right between God and Man!! God still loved man very much but man choose Sin over God. Things were not perfect any more. It was a very sad time. Man was sad and started doing sad things, more and more sad things, and SIN kept pushing Man further and further away from God.

But God… he’s the good guy in our story… God still loved Man very much. He knew that Sin was out there trying to steal Man’s love and even before Man had chosen Sin, God had a plan in place to bring Man back to Him. God did something absolutely amazing, like a total SUPERHERO move!

(Choose child to hold Brown Cross)

God did an amazing thing. He decided to leave His place in heaven where he was safe and come to earth as a Man, a Man called Jesus, and fight the evil villain. In that day there was a woman named Mary and man named Joseph that God asked to be Jesus’ parents. They said “Yes!” and Mary gave birth to Jesus. This was the very first Christmas and God gave us the very best present that day. Every birthday needs a party, right? So God sent a whole bunch of angels down to earth to tell some shepherds that Jesus was born, and those shepherds went to see him and then ran out to tell everyone else. God also put a big beautiful star in the sky so that people from very far away would see it and come visit Jesus and bring him presents.

Sin wasn’t happy that Jesus came and tried to get Man to hurt him, but God protected Jesus so He could grow up and fight the evil villain. Jesus talked to a lot of people when he was growing up and told them that one day He would fight Sin once and for all. And then, that day came. It was an epic battle.   Jesus told the villain he couldn’t win, that he would defeat him, and Sin fought by telling Man to do evil things until one day, one very sad day, Man put Jesus on the cross because of Sin. Man killed Jesus. It seemed like all hope was lost.

Now, we’ve watched some great Superhero shows right?   Those shows, they are basically getting their story line from THE STORY, so you probably know what’s going to happen. Because in those movies, when the superhero looks totally defeated by the villain, what happens? (Kids might say things like the superhero comes back to life, or gets stronger, or beats the bad guy)

That’s right!! Sin isn’t strong enough to beat Jesus. Just when we think all hope is lost TA-DA, the grave opens and JESUS ISN’T THERE because He is Risen!! Sin is defeated!!!! God Wins!!! Oh, wait, but what about Man?

(Choose child to hold Red Heart)

Because Jesus beat Sin on the Cross, Man has an amazing opportunity. If we want to, we can have that perfect love relationship with God again. Sin cannot stop us from loving God and it could never stop God from loving us. We can go to God anytime we want because of Jesus’ victory on the cross and say, “God, I choose to love you and hate Sin. Jesus, you’re my superhero!”

(Have the kids lay all the signs out on the floor in a row)

Now, you may ask, why I told this story today. Because right now, as we get ready for Christmas, we are right in the middle of the story. We are right here.

(Point between lightening bolt and cross)

We are getting ready to welcome Jesus into the world on Christmas Day by celebrating when He was born. We are getting ready to open the best present of all, God’s love! We will celebrate the BIGGEST SUPERHERO VICTORY OF ALL TIME!! We will remember that SIN was defeated! That our HERO died BUT came back to life and SAVED the DAY! And that we can be in the perfect love relationship with God again.

So this month , as you wait for Christmas and you think about the Story, take time to remember. This story has the happiest ending of all! It ends with a LOVE SO BIG it wins every time! And you get to be a part of that story!!


A version of The Story is also available for Lent or Easter!  Click here to read the Easter version. 

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

They are ALWAYS learning & We are ALWAYS Teaching

“You know how I learned about tithing?  I was a kid and our family was on a fixed income but every other week, when the paycheck came, I remember seeing my dad and mom sit down at the kitchen table and lay out all the bills. I would watch my dad pull out the checkbook and the first check he wrote was to the church. Before they paid any other bills, he made sure he gave his money to God.”

This is a true story, shared with me by an older woman and a dear friend. Notice what she said. Or more precisely what she didn’t say. She said she learned about tithing from her parents. But not from a devotional or a faith talk. She learned it by watching her parents do something, week after week, living by faith, in front of their children.

Their actions were the lesson. Their consistency was the testimony. And their faith?  That was what talked; that’s what spoke the loudest. 

We know this, right?  We know that our actions speak louder than words. We know that our children are always watching us. We know that the lessons we don’t necessarily plan in advance become the moments that are most defining.

But do we really know it?  Do we know it enough to consider how the rhythms of our life are transforming and forming how our children approach life and view this world? Are there things that our kids would say, “We always do that”?  Things that help create the essence of our homes, the very identity of who we are as families.  I

n a previous post, I wrote:

For family, this means we create an identity that becomes central to our character and meaning as a unit.  It communicates to the world “This is WHO we are, WHAT we stand for, and HOW we do life.” It becomes our family’s DNA and what our kids look to and say, “This is part of what it is to be an (insert last name here).”

Our children are learning life from how we live our life.father-1633655_1920

Our simplest routines, our approach to successes and failures, our kneejerk reactions and our carefully planned schedules – all of it is being watched and processed by our kids.

So what can we do?

Be Aware

I think the first thing we need is just to be aware of what our family’s “always” are. One fun way to find out is to get a posterboard, some markers, and your family and gather around the table to answer this question, “What makes us…US?”  In other words, have your kids tell you what your identity is by drawing it on the posterboard. What the the things we always do and the things we always say and the ways we always act?  Then look at the picture you’ve created. Be aware that these are the avenues through which you are influencing your children. 

When our family did this very thing, one thing that became apparent is that our kids had picked up on besides our faith is our high regard for education, for entertaining guests, for travel, for family time, and for good food. These are areas where they are watching and learning from us, their parents. Being aware of this has helped us to be more aware of our own actions and words in these areas.

Be Intentional

Sometimes, rhythms and routines don’t just naturally happen. Sometimes, we need to intentionally created structure around those things. We can even create a whole language to describe them. For instance, our whole family knows what an “Oh Yeah Dance” is and where it started; we know what is going to happen at a family meeting; and we know what a “Daddy/daughter or Mommy/Son” date is going to look like. We have been intentional in creating these places where learning and loving (discipleship) can take place.

It can be important to create spiritual routines that, as Reggie Joiner (2009) says in his book Think Orange, fit with the rhythm of our life. For instance, it can become routine for us to start or end our day with prayer. Maybe our routine is cleaning up dishes together as a family or reading a piece of Scripture at each meal. These routines should be “expected” at some part of just normal daily life but guess what, to get there, you have to start here, with intentionality and a bit of planning.

Be Redundant

Remember the original story? Every two weeks this woman watched her parents pay bills and write their tithe check. It was a repetitive and recurring lesson. More impacting than that is this command in Deuteronomy 6:7 “talk of them (the commands of the Lord) when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”  I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure these are moments that repeat every day. These daily repetitive moments are the times God has given us to lead our children to Him.

The thing about redundancy and repetition is that a lot of learning takes place there. Studies show that “the more something is repeated, the more likely children are to remember it. Repetition in a variety of forms also increases the likelihood of reaching children with different learning styles and provides a more comprehensive understanding of concepts.”  So be boring – be redundant – be the best teacher.

It’s kinda scary, right? Huge responsibility.

But also, pretty cool right? Our kids are growing in their faith and character every day, and we, as parents, have the greatest influence on them – greater by far than their friends, their teachers, and even their TVs. S

o, let’s be aware; let’s be intentional; and even if it seems super boring, let’s be redundant. Because, they are always learning and we are always teaching.


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

And One To Grow On: Christmas gift ideas to help your kids grow their faith

My friend, fellow minister and fellow mom, Judy Chatterton, recently posted on Facebook some of the gifts she is getting for her kids this year. I asked her if I could share her thoughts and recommendations here so that we can pass them on to parents/caregivers who may ask for ideas or so we can consider them for our own children.

Judy has three children of varying ages, so the books are spaced out accordingly. Here’s what she had to say!


I’m Christmas shopping for my kids. Want to see what they’re getting???? I always get them one gift that helps them grow spiritually, after all isn’t that the whole point of Christmas!! Read the caption with each picture for a description.

Kindergarten-3rd gradeiam

I Am: 40 Reasons to Trust God by Diane Stortz

This is what our youngest son is getting. That little guy hasn’t learned yet that God has different names…he’s our provider, protector, The Great I AM. Awesome illustrations without too many words on a page. This is probably a third grade reading level so he couldn’t read it himself but it will be good for bedtime.

 

gratitudejournal3rd – 5th grade

A Thankful Heart is a Happy Heart: Gratitude Journal for Kids by Crystal Paine

I love, love, love the idea of a gratitude journal. ❤️ I was thinking about making one for my daughter (and you could do that) but then I found this one that was created by one of my favorite bloggers!!

 

Preteen

imachristianI’m a Christian, Now What by Lifeway Kids

Okay….. let’s talk about devotions. Most devotions are boring and kids really have no idea how to take a scripture verse and apply it to their lives. I really think that devotions that are solely reading are probably more appropriate for middle school and up. That’s just my two cents! I like this devotional because it’s actually a journal. It has activities that you do to help you remember a scripture or apply that scripture to your life. It has games and puzzles and is colorful.

 

Bonus: For Young Kidsbibleappkids

The Bible App for Kids Storybook Bible

We’ve had this Bible for a year now. If you have young kids in your house you NEED this Bible!! The illustrations are adorable. It’s colorful. It’s an easy read aloud because there aren’t a lot of words on each page. I think this should be every child’s first Bible!!! For goodness sake’s, you want a child’s first impression of God’s word to be a positive one and this storybook accomplishes that.

*Personal Note from Christina – My five-year-old son loves the Bible App for Kids. When he asks to play on my phone, it’s usually so he can get to this app. It’s fun, interactive, and he loves to tell me the stories he’s “read” when he’s done. Oh, and did I mention, it’s free? Check it out in the App Store.

Thanks Judy, for sharing with us what your kids are getting this year!  

Friends, do you have a favorite you’d like to share?  Please mention it in the comments below with a link for where we can purchase it.

Happy Christmas shopping!


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