The Gift of a Child

I’ve always been drawn to the story of the Little Drummer Boy. Here’s a little boy, who has nothing but a drum. All around the adults, who have money and vocations and big important jobs, are bringing their finest gifts to the newborn King. Their gifts were shiny and pretty and new and all the little boy had was his drum, something a little baby boy could never use. So what was he to do?

He gave what he could. He gave Him a song.

And then Jesus smiled.

This morning in church surrounded by adults that knew all the right words and ways to act and songs to sing, a little boy scribbled on a piece of paper.  And with no pomp or circumstance, that little boy walked right up to our altar, right in the middle of the worship service, and laid his scribble right next to the Advent wreath and communion elements. His mom started forward to remove it until the pastor (my husband) signaled her to leave it there.

He gave what he could. He gave Him a scribble.

And then, I really do think, Jesus smiled.

In that same service, my son made me a ring out of pipe cleaners. Someone saw it later and said it looked like I was wearing a muppet on my hand. But that ring, that meant the world to Caleb in that moment because he had made it and he had given it to me.

child-577010_1920The gift of a child is given with all sincerity.  See, for a child, when they create something, a song, a scribble, a ring, they genuinely give a part of themselves to it.

That’s why we hang these things on refrigerator doors and send through the mail and keep folders of treasures we just can’t bear to throw out.

So often, as adults, we come to church thinking about what we can receive. A word from the Lord. A moment of peace or inspiration. A break. A renewal. And it can be easy to look at our children and think that is true of them too.  But I wonder what would happen if we came asking what we could give. Even more than that, what if we asked our kids what they wanted to give at church on Sunday.

A song? A ring? A scribble?  What if we opened our altars to whatever a child brings to give?  Or our offering plates to things other than the shiny?  And our stages to songs that may not be the most beautiful but probably the most heartfelt?

Every time I hear the Little Drummer Boy song, I hear the accompaniment of some really amazing drum lines or drum riffs.  But it was a poor little boy. I have a little boy. When he plays the drum, it does not sound like the drums on that song.

And then Jesus smiled.

As those who bring our children to the Savior, the adults with the big important jobs, how can we begin to make room for the gifts of children?  How can we be like Mary in the song and “nod” to the kids? I truly believe it will make Jesus smile.


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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

EmbreeFam2017

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, 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, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed

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Why I Don’t Like Church Christmas Programs

Is there anything cuter than kids in a Christmas play?  I mean seriously, don’t we just love seeing the kids sharing their songs, saying their lines, quoting their Bible verses and wearing all the Christmassy things?  And, of course, there’s always that “one” kid who unwittingly steals the show with their over-enthusiastic lines or their under-enthusiastic singing.  Or the one who is just a little bit off on the motions or the one who is pretending to conduct in the back row.  I mean, who doesn’t like seeing kids perform in church?

Me.

What?!?  I’m a children’s pastor. Isn’t that against the rules?

You guys, bear with me but, yeah, I usually don’t like them very much at all. I love that the kids talk about Jesus. I do think that they are beyond adorable and I want to hug every single one. But what I don’t like are the many implications that often come with it; things that go unsaid, but speak volumes to children and adults about the place of children in “big church.”

Four Reasons I Don’t Like Christmas Programs

  1. They define the role of Children in Worship – They are performers. They are cute. Everyone likes to “see” them. Everyone wants them on stage.  But children are much more than that. They are active, vital, necessary members of the body of Christ. If they are only invited into worship to “perform” guess what worship/church becomes for them?  A performance. And when they get tired of performing or they aren’t cute anymore, they move on to bigger and better things.
  2. They define the role of the Children’s Pastor – Many or most who work in Children’s ministry, rarely spend much time in “big church.”  The role is unseen; serving downstairs or upstairs making sure children are loved, rooms are covered, volunteers are appreciated, parents are affirmed, janitors are appeased, visitors are welcomed, and families are encouraged. But the only time a children’s minister is seen in church is when he/she bring the children up to put on a show. It creates a very limited view of who children’s ministers are.
  3. They define the role of the Congregation – When the children perform, all the feelings are there! The kids are sweet and cute and the church loves to see them in church. But it is a passive reception; the kids give, the church receives. There are no active, ongoing relationships. Many don’t even know the children’s names. They are the “girl in the red dress that sang so loud” and the “boy in the tie who sat on the steps.”  It creates an environment of “us” and “them” and when the performance is over, everyone returns to their posts.
  4. They define who is and who is not “the Church” – This is the same reason I despise the term “big church.”  There isn’t a big church and little church in God’s kingdom. There’s just church.  We, all of us, old, young and in-between, are all members of God’s body, part of the Church, His Bride. We affirm this at baptism or dedication. The whole congregations commits to being one body. And then, we go our separate ways, big and little, for the year, until it’s time to perform again.

I know that not every church is like this.

christmaschurchPlease know that I realize that for some churches the program is more than a performance. For those churches, the children are involved in church all year long as participants and not just performers and the Christmas program is an extension of a greater story. I am beyond blessed to serve in a church like this.

But many of the reports I hear from Christmas programs across the board can be summed up like this, “All year we are invisible, but today…Today we shine.”  And that makes me sad.

What can be done?

Well, for one, we can start making the children part of the larger corporate worship more frequently, giving them a name and voice and relationships rather than just being cute and adorable.

Create space for adults to interact with children on level ground rather than as active performer and passive recipient.

Define roles differently – children as saints of God and adults as children of God; the children’s director as pastor and shepherd of God’s flock not keeper of kids; the congregation as a family of all generations not a division of age groups and ministries.

Christmas programs are in and of themselves not the issue.

I mean, let’s face it, they are part of the regular church experience and, come on, the kids are really cute!

But if that’s all they are, if that is the only time they are seen and the only role they fill, then Christmas programs are the issue. If that’s the only time the children’s minister is a part of corporate worship, it’s an issue. If a culture of “us” and “them” is perpetuated or if children are guests in the service rather than family at the table, then it’s an issue.

Christmas is a time we celebrate Love coming to earth…as a child. Our programming, no matter how cute or adorable it is, should be a continuation of that story through the community and family that is the church.

This post was originally published in December 2015


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

EmbreeFam2017

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, 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, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed

Discipleship: When our Sunday Doing has Monday Meaning

What is Advent?

I know, Thanksgiving comes first. And I do love Thanksgiving. The food, the family, the opportunity to express gratitude for all those things and more. But Advent is probably my favorite celebration of the year. Not Christmas necessarily, but Advent, the time leading up to Christmas. The anticipation of Christ’s arrival. The celebration of Hope, Peace, Joy and ultimate Love.

A few years ago, I asked a group of elementary-aged children this question.  Keep in mind that these children have been “raised” in church so the terminology of “advent” was not unfamiliar to them.  But the answers… oh, the answers… seriously, one of the reasons I love working with kids.

Advent is…

… when you can’t find the angel for the top of tree and you look all over the house for it

… a fun trip into the jungle (I think he though I meant “adventure”)

… when you light candles on the tree branches that fall off the tree (think Advent wreath)

… that thing you use to light Christmas lights

… the songs you sing at Christmas time

Admittedly there were some closer guesses, “countdown to Christmas” being the most popular one, but in reality, most of the kids had no idea about the heart and the wonder behind the season of Advent.

And that got me thinking?  Why?  I know for a fact that Advent has always been celebrated at this church.  Every year on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, candles had been lit and Hope, Peace, Joy and Love talked about.  Liturgical Scriptures were read and Advent vespers services were held.  But somehow, the whole meaning behind the celebration of Advent was missed by the children.

So the question is, how much of what we do on Sunday still has meaning for us on Monday?

You see, lighting the candle of Hope on Sunday doesn’t mean a whole lot to me or you (or to our kids) if we don’t talk about that hope, contemplate that hope, and celebrate that hope for the rest of the week.

Reading beautiful Scriptures of God’s promises and love for us doesn’t mean a whole lot if it stays inside the church walls and never makes it to our dinner table, our car ride, our community, and our job.

Singing a few hymns of Christmas joy won’t impact our lives until we consider the words and use them to praise God on our recliner at home as much as we do our pew at church.

The reality is, if we are “doing” something at church and not “doing” that same thing the rest of the week, we are compartmentalizing our faith to a building instead of incorporating our faith into transformed lives.

christmas-1125147_1920We don’t have to literally light an Advent candle every night but if we want our children to know about the Hope of Christ, we need to talk about it every day.

And it’s fine and even fun to sing Christmas carols in the car but we also need to model a life of worship everywhere we go.

We don’t necessarily have to read Scripture aloud in front of our family but Scripture needs to be a part of our everyday conversations with our kids.

I once asked a similar group of kids what church was.  My answers ranged from “A building we go to on Sunday” to “Where God lives.”  I know these are kids and “kids say the darndest things” but let’s be real for a minute.

If we live lives that say “Church is a building we go to on Sunday because God is there” how else are our children to interpret our faith?   What if instead we told our kids, “Church is the family of God and He is always with us so we are always in church?”  Not with those words, but with our lives.

Spontaneous worship.  Times of prayer.  Lighting of candles. Corporate worship.  Waiting expectantly in hope for the arrival of Christ. 

These things don’t need to be limited to a place, a time, a special moment.  These things can be lived all year long and our lives can be a living testimony to a vibrant, growing faith.

Want some ideas on how to bring Advent home in simple, practical ways? Click here!

Worried you can’t do it all?  That’s okay!  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 this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, 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

Deep Breaths. You are NOT a Horrible Parent.

And with the stroke of midnight and the turning back of the clocks…it happened. Somehow we magically moved into the mysterious time we call the “holiday season.”  In just a few days my Facebook feed has lit up with posts about Christmas, posts against Christmas, and posts pitting Thanksgiving and Christmas against each other. Christmas music has started playing on the radio and Thanksgiving turkeys are starting to show up in grocery stores.  The whirlwind begins.

Keep in mind, dear friends, that I LOVE the whirlwind. I embrace it like a moth to a flame. The busy isn’t busy to me – it’s rich and full and bursting with life. Time with friends and family becomes the essential instead of the extracurricular and food, fun, and fellowship the norm rather than the exception.

But the is also the time of year where Stress gest a capital-S. Because while all those things above happen, so does all the other stuff that goes on year-round. It’s not like we hit the pause button on life so that we can celebrate; instead the celebration gets piled on already busy, stressed-out lives.

A recent study by Pew Research has found that in nearly half of two-parent homes, both parents work full-time.

pewresearchHow does that affect the family?  The same research found that:

  • Of full-time working parents, 39 percent of mothers and 50 percent of fathers say they feel as if they spend too little time with their children.
  • 59% percent of full-time working mothers say they don’t have enough leisure time, and more than half of working fathers say the same.
  • 56% percent of all working parents say the balancing act is difficult, and those who do are more likely to say that parenting is tiring and stressful, and less likely to find it always enjoyable and rewarding

One mother interviewed by the New York Times said this, “You basically just always feel like you’re doing a horrible job at everything. You’re not spending as much time with your baby as you want, you’re not doing the job you want to be doing at work, you’re not seeing your friends hardly ever.”

When we add in the holidays on top of life, for many it is overwhelming.

And then, if we add to that the calling for parents to intentionally lead and disciple their kids at home, using this time of year to teach them about gratitude, serving others, compassion, self-sacrifice, and giving through things like serving at a mission or participating in a food drive or giving up presents…for many, it feels impossible.

stressholiday

Parents, may I encourage you?  

For a brief moment, before we are rushed headlong into this season, can I give you this small respite of grace?

You don’t have to do it all.

You don’t have to do it perfectly.

You don’t have to make all the best choices, provide the best experiences, or present the best opportunities.

(deep breath)

But, if you can step back and before it all starts simply say,

“Jesus, this year, with our family and our children, show us how to invite you into the everyday of our holiday season. In what we are already doing, show us how to have You be a part of it.  Be present in our presence;” i

Some simple ideas, using those everyday moments from Deuteronomy 6:7 “when you sit at home, when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” could transform your holiday season without you feeling like you do a “horrible job” at everything.  Things like…

When you sit at home:  Doing a Thankful Pumpkin at dinner (see “how to” here), Watching a Christmas movie and looking for Jesus in it (see ideas for movie night discussion here), Wrapping gifts for family members and praying for each one while you do. 

When you walk along the road:  Listening to Christian Christmas Carols and asking what part of the Christmas story it was about, Looking at Christmas lights and talking about how Jesus is our Light (check out this Christmas lights scavenger hunt if you have a long drive), Handing out Blessings Bags to those in need. 

When you lie down:  Create a wall of blessing that you add to each night at bedtime (just tack up a piece of poster board and let kids decorate with stickers, pictures, etc. and list the year’s blessings, one each night/week), Start reading the Christmas story on December 1 until Christmas Day, Add one ornament each Saturday night to the tree that has special meaning to your family.

When you rise: Use an Advent Calendar and open a door each morning before the day starts, Pray together for everyone you sent Christmas cards to (one person or family per morning/week), Put Christmas cards in your kids backpacks (you can get packs for $1 at Dollar Tree) with notes of blessing for them all season long. 

(Want more ideas: Click here)

The reality is that the holidays are coming, will come, and will pass. Memories will be made. Life will happen. What January looks like for your family will in some way be dependent on what November and December looked like as they passed.

Don’t allow stress and shame steal the joy and opportunity of the season.

Realistically, no family can do it all. But realistically, we can all do something.

If we are unable to do “the big things,” let’s invite Jesus into all the little things and embrace the celebration for His sake.  It will look different for each home, as it should. But in each home, Christ desires to be the respite, the rest, the peace no matter what season it is.


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

EmbreeFam2017

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, 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

Book Review: ‘Twas the Evening of Christmas by Glenys Nellist

We saw snow on Sunday in Kentucky. Actual white flakes fell from the sky. Apparently the weather is not heeding by the “no Christmas until Thanksgiving” rule that I grew up with because the mere sight of snow sent my children, particularly my youngest, into a Christmas tizzy.

Okay, fine, I’ll admit it. I too get a little bit of that excitement when I saw the snow falling. I love Christmas. But more precisely, I love Advent. I love the anticipation; the time leading up to our celebration of Christ’s birth. Now, I realize that likely Jesus wasn’t born on December 25 and that the background of the holiday was decidedly pagan and that the Wise Man have their own holiday (Epiphany) for a reason and … all those things.

But for us, Christmas IS actually the celebration of Christ’s birth.

We anticipate that moment. We talk about why He came. We talk about the miracle of His birth. We talk about how heaven came to earth; how God became man and walked around us, fully God and fully man. How He chose to come as an infant, wrapped in frail flesh, carrying within Him the hope of the world.

I realize, of course, that not everyone who celebrates Christmas does so with this particular anticipation. In fact, many do not really await the chance to celebrate Christ’s birthday but rather just anticipate the arrival of a jolly red-suited fellow with white whiskers and a sack full of presents. There are many traditions in our current celebration that have little to do with anticipating Christ’s birth and much more to do with a modern celebration of a holiday.

But, let’s look at that for just one moment. When Christ came into the world, He came with a purpose – redemption. Rather than discard the world, He redeemed it. And I happen to think we, as His followers, can do that same, if we so desire.

author-photo

I think that’s exactly what my friend Glenys Nellist had in mind when she wrote ‘Twas the Evening of Christmas. I know a lot of people that like to read the poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas on, well, the night before Christmas – Christmas Eve. The traditional poem is all about that latter anticipation – waiting for Santa Claus to arrive. It’s pretty much impossible to grow up in modern Western civilization and not hear this poem at some point. It’s as familiar as candy canes and caroling.

But it doesn’t really capture what we wait for. It doesn’t point us to our much-anticipated moment. It doesn’t lead us to Jesus. 

Twas The Evening Cover

So Glenys redeemed it. ‘Twas the Evening of Christmas has the same rhythm, the same cadence, the same comfortable traditional Christmas Eve feel but it leads us to a manger, to a moment, to what we celebrate at Christmas.  My favorite line is when Jesus is born and and animals take notice that this is nor ordinary birth.

“Up jumped the cows, and the oxen and sheep. Up popped the pigeons, aroused from their sleep. They all came to gaze at the small baby boy, As his mama and papa hugged him with joy.”

Our family loves the idea of redemption. The lights of Christmas remind us that the Light of the World has come. The evergreen tree reminds us that we’ve been given the gift of eternal life. The shadow of the needles on the ceiling remind of us the crown of thorns that Jesus would one day wear for us.

If reading the poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas is a tradition in your home, why not use this simple story to redeem that moment too?  It’s a chance, a simple way, to remember what Christmas is all about for those of us who follow Jesus, the Messiah, our Savior.

(If you’d like to know more about the book and author click here and to read future reviews, go to http://momofwildthings.com/ . Interested in getting your own copy?  Comment below or on Facebook by November 6 to be entered to win a free copy!  Last year I got to share about her book Christmas Love Letters from God which makes for a great Advent Journey for young children; you can read that review 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

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, 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

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 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

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