More than Independence

Today, America celebrates their Independence Day. 242 years ago, a group of men added their signatures a document that would eventually be sent across the Atlantic Ocean to the King of England declaring their independence from England and their intention to establish their own country.

The second and probably most quoted sentence of the document states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

And with that ideal, the United States of America was founded. Over time, our country has worked to define what all of that means from words like “equal” and “truths” to concepts like acknowledging a Creator and the right to pursue one’s own happiness. Wars have been fought, both geographical and political, ideological and philosophical, in order to pursue this objective.

light-painting-801025_1920For many of us, reading these words creates our own internal war. We all have deeply held loyalties and beliefs that color these words with our own meanings. For some it brings up a deep sense of nationalism and pride. For others a sense of sorrow and disappointment. Depending on our experience and our history, the ideals presented here can cause conflicting reactions.

And that brings us to July 4. A day set aside to celebrate our country.

How can we, as Christians and citizens of another Kingdom who recognize that God and country are often in conflict and not one and the same, use a day like July 4 to help our children grow in their faith and as good citizens of their country?

I think Jeremiah 29 gives a great framework for instilling in our children godly perspectives that help us to both celebrate and grow our faith. At this point in history, Israel has been captured by Babylon and the Jewish people are now living not in Israel but are exiled in Babylon under the rule of the king. The prophet Jeremiah is giving the people some instructions on how to live in God-honoring ways in Babylon even though it is not their country or their true home. And this is what is written:

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then found a spouse for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.”

This passage is so rich, so full of amazing life lessons that we can share with our children.

Live Life Abundantly

Notice that God’s first command is build houses, get married and have children. It’s very similar to the command given to Adam and Eve in the garden to be fruitful and multiply. He doesn’t want them to live as depressed, withdrawn or frustrated people. He doesn’t want them to live as Babylonians either worshipping their king or their gods.

God wanted His people to engage in life where He had placed them, to be a part of the economy and the society in a noticeable and intentional way while still remaining true to following Him. How we can instill this sense of intentional engagement with our country and our community  while still bing fully committed to Christ in our children? Read on!

Work for the Peace and Prosperity of the City

This is how! Isn’t this the coolest command? God says, “Don’t just live there and multiply; become an integral part of the community!” Work for the good of the country. Find ways to engage in the community through service and giving and participation.

Explore places where your whole family can serve together, especially places that encourage peace and prosperity, reconciliation and rejuvenation. Together, seek peace and pursue it.

Pray for the Country

I know this seems self evident as Christians, but do we actually pray for our country? And when we pray, do we actually pray for our country or do we pray for the things we want for our country politically or otherwise? Do we pray against people and politicians or for the welfare of our country as a whole? And do we do it as a family?

Gratitude

This one is not explicitly listed here but it’s woven throughout the text. We can be grateful. We can be grateful that God is taking care of us and our families. We can be grateful for the country we live in and the freedoms we enjoy. And we can celebrate with gratitude the opportunities that we experience living in this country.

And, do you know what very well-known verse follows this portion of Scripture?

Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to bring you hope and a future.” What a wonderful promise given to Israel even as they lived away from home that God had them and would take care of them. And what a promise for us that while we are living here on earth, He is preparing an eternal future and a hope for us.

As we celebrate today, let’s remember that we are called to more than celebration; we are called to life, to work, to prayer and to gratefulness for our family and our country to the glory of God alone!


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

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The Power of a Moment: Where Discipleship Happens

Last night, I glanced out the window and saw the tell-tale pink glow of the promise of an amazing sunset. I absolutely LOVE the sky and love all the things that happen there from storm clouds swirling to sunsets waning. In fact, one of my neighbors stopped me once to say, “I love how you are always looking up!” And I do. I love the sky.

So, in true form, I bounded from the couch and ran out the door, camera (okay, fine, phone) in hand. The sky was an orange-pink color as the setting sun bounced off the low-hanging clouds. As the sun went lower, the clouds changed from light orange to bright orange to dark pink. The whole sky rippled with the colors of sunset, changing the whole atmosphere into a magical pink paradise.

And then, it was over. The clouds returned to their gray color. The sun sunk below the horizon. The dim light of twilight took over. The awe-inspiring show of beauty and light was over just minutes before it started, captured only in a few photos and the swelling of my joy-filled heart.

Go ahead and grab your phone. Take a few minutes and glance through the moments you’ve captured there.

A birthday party?  A visit with a friend? A few silly selfies with your kids?  That time when you snuck in and got a picture of your little one sleeping?  A couple of cameos just for fun?

 

My guess is these were fleeting moments too.

Times where you grabbed the phone to capture a full heart in a still picture.

The thing about Time is that it doesn’t stop moving forward. As one kidmin conference noted a couple of years ago “It’s just a phase…so don’t miss it.”

That sunset I saw will never happen again. I could have glanced outside and said, “Oh look, a sunset” and moved on. I could have taken a picture and posted it on Instagram to prove I was there. Or, I could have done what I did – reveled in the moment. Fleeting though it was, it filled my soul.

Our moments with our children are likewise fleeting. Even those pictures on our phones can be deceiving, because being present and being there are two different things. I think the missionary Jim Elliot put it best when he said, “Wherever you are, be all there.

Discipleship happens in the moments, not the photographs.

It happens in the stolen minutes before bed, the shared meal around the table, the movie night in the living room, the car ride to practice, the quick hug before the school day begins.

It happens when we invite Christ into these precious times. These passing moments can be soul-filling if we let them be, not just for us, but for our kids. The opportunity to be “all there” presents itself all the time, the soft glow of family calling us back to each other, for moments that can bring us awe.

When I look at this picture of sunset, I don’t just see a beautiful sky or a gorgeous sunset. I feel the moment in my heart. I feel the awe. And that’s because I was truly there. img_5315

What do we feel as we scroll through those pics on our phone?  Why not grab your child and go through it with them?  Feel the awe of the moments together. And make that determination to be “all there” no matter how fleeting the time may be


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

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

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 Life of Awe: Gratitude is More than Saying “Thank You

Each year in November, Americans celebrate a holiday aptly named Thanksgiving where we pause for a moment, take a deep breath, count our blessing, and express our gratitude. We spend time with family, eat delicious food, kick off the Christmas holiday season, watch football, and engage in any number of personal family traditions.

Perhaps this year, more than in others in recent memory, I am more cognizant of the need to give thanks. However, I think something we need to consider as we are leading the next generation of citizens, is that gratitude is not limited to a spoken “thank you” or a special day.

Gratitude is a way of life; a continual living into an awareness of the blessings we have and the grace we are given each and every moment of the day.

Simply put, gratitude is a life of awe. It’s a place where we are very aware of the incredible life we are given, from the air that we breathe to the food that we eat. It’s more than an attitude or a platitude – it’s a state of being.

thanksgiving-1680142_1920Often our children miss out on awe. Their lives are fast-paced and hurried. They shuffle from one activity to the next, one distraction to the next, one practice to the next and that sense of awe and wonder gets lost in the noise.  And let’s be frank, a constant lack of awe leads to a lack of gratitude and a growth of entitlement. When we aren’t aware of the greatness of our blessings, we assume that our blessings are our rights and we behave in ways that are more greedy than gracious, more demanding than grateful.

How can we help our kids live a life of awe?

We can STOP

For a moment, for a breath, we can stop. Stop the car. Stop the conversation. Stop the running. Stop for just a moment and look up, look out, and look around. My kids love to make fun of me because I will pull the car off on the side of the road to get a picture of the sky. They make fun of me, but they also look up a lot – at stars, at clouds, at sunrises and sunsets – and they are in awe of our Creator. And that leads to thanksgiving. So, let’s stop for a just a moment, when our kids are watching, and live into awe.

We can GO

One thing that hinders gratitude is an introspective life that is focused inward on self. A. W. Tozer once shared, “Gratitude is an offering precious in the sight of God, and it is one that the poorest of us can make and be not poorer but richer for having made it. Showing and offering gratitude leads us to look not to self, but to others.

When we are aware of our blessings, we want to extend those blessings to those around us. There is something amazingly precious about our children watching us serve others and joining us in that work. It leads to a distinct awareness of just how blessed we really are.

We can SPEAK

My favorite hashtag on social media is #speaklife. I love it because if you click on it, you will find all manner of uplifting and powerful messages of life-giving hope. We can speak life. Gratitude isn’t just about saying thank you, it’s about speaking life into situations where hopelessness and darkness encroach and try to steal, kill and destroy hearts and lives. It’s the antithesis of grumbling and complaining.

Gratitude says there is hope and if our children need to hear anything today, it’s that there is hope – unending, never failing hope. 

Maybe your church or family is doing a gratitude challenge this month?  Well, here’s my challenge for all of us. As we look around at the world around us and we see the things that hurt our hearts and weigh heavy on our spirit, let’s cultivate a new approach within ourselves – an approach that stops, goes, and speaks with heartfelt gratefulness and genuine thanksgiving – an approach that leads to a sense of awe and wonder.

Let’s…

  • Take pictures of the sky
  • Sing songs loudly in the car
  • Spin around until we fall down
  • Make a card for a friend
  • Pick a flower for a neighbor
  • Give a meal to someone who is hungry
  • Fill a envelope with notes of love and drop it in the mail
  • Hold hands and go for a walk
  • Stop the car and watch the sunset
  • Whisper a prayer as we walk along the way
  • Talk about our day as we sit at home
  • Bless our family as we rise and
  • Pray for them as we lie down

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17


For more information about

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

About the author

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