At All Times-Psalm 34:1

January 8, 2011

Christmas Book Review: “Little Star” for Little Ones

Please note: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Little Star is a Christmas tale for children written by Anthony DeStefano. Narrated by a father speaking to his child, the book details the story of a small star that is ignored by all of the other stars. A special contest occurs when a great king is to be born on earth. When all the other stars see the lowliness of this baby’s birth, they turn away. Little Star is the only one able to understand this humble baby’s birth and out shines all the other stars, eventually shining himself to death (literally) for Jesus’ birth.

The story is not long and was received well by my son who is almost three. The most appealing part of this book is that it is great for articulating to small children about the humble nature of Christ’s birth. The book explains in simple terms that Jesus came in a very humble way so that he could identify with us, making this a good tool for communicating one of the many beautiful parts of the Christmas story. This truth touches Little Star deeply and is what moves him to shine so bright.

The only thing that may trouble some with the story is that it mixes clear Biblical truth about Christ’s birth with a legend about a talking star. It may be important to discern whether your child can understand the difference between the imaginary and the real. I certainly have no problem with books about talking stars at any age, but I do think it is important that we are careful with how we use make-believe when presenting the weightiest truths we have to share with our child.

Overall, this book is a good tool for teaching young children, and a sweet tale that they are likely to enjoy!

January 30, 2010

Especially Traditions: Treasuring God in our Traditions Part IV

Continuing my reflection series on Noel Piper’s book Treasuring God in our Traditions, I’d like to look at the “especially” traditions. In other words, those special, yearly events that you and I most often think of when we hear the word “traditions.”

Especially traditions include things like:

  • Holidays (Easter, Christmas, Fourth of July)
  • Birthdays
  • Family Reunions, Funerals, Births, Marriages

My husband and I have put a great deal of thought into our Christmas and Easter traditions the past few years. We have been seeking to establish family traditions that will root our children in the hope of God. When we live in a country that is certainly no longer a Christian one, even holidays that have profoundly sacred roots are immersed in the commercialism, materialism, and humanism of our day.

I do believe, as a new parent, one of the greatest battles I have to face with major holidays is that of competing with the intense excitement surrounding the nearly God-less traditions of the day. There is nothing wrong with participating in the cultural and social traditions that surround special days. They create family and social bonds that are an important part of life. However, we can’t let these things detract or distract from the more important bonds we are trying to cultivate within our family for the kingdom of God. Let’s take look at Easter because it is fast approaching.

Easter is designed to be a time of somber reflection over the sacrificial death of the Son of God on a cross, followed by great celebration of the hope and confidence of His resurrection. This is something of eternal value truly worth sharing to my children. But for a child, a candy-laden egg hunt, and a basket full of surprises one morning are both easier to understand and more readily enjoyable. How are deep spiritual truths to compete with immediate, tangible gratification?

I have felt personally convicted to establish my traditions in such a way that…

  • The majority of the traditions surrounding special days in our home can be directly and soundly linked to Biblical truth.
  • Traditions that don’t directly reflect the truths from Scripture that I want my children to know and understand should be done away with if they distract from the truths I am trying to communicate.

Here are three examples for Christmas in our home….

  1. Christmas Carols: Our family sings special Christmas carols together every evening for the month. These songs teach us the truths of Christ’s coming and allows us to mediate on them. The songs are great for the children to learn (some have actions), and singing brings the family together in an intimate way.
  2. Christmas Tree: We have chosen to keep a Christmas tree in our home during the Christmas season. Although I don’t believe most ideas of a Christmas tree are typically tied to the truths of Advent, we have chosen to display meaningful family ornaments on our tree. The ornaments reflect how our family has grown over the years and major events that have happened. This tradition doesn’t distract us in anyway from the truths of Advent and it provides a great way to see indirectly how God has been working in and blessing our family over the years.
  3. Santa Claus: We have chosen not to teach our children about Santa Claus at Christmas because the excitement that surrounds this fairy-tale figure is fluffy and weightless compared to reality of the birth of Christ. And more than that, it often becomes the soul focus of a child’s heart for the entire season.

The most important thing for me to keep in mind as a parent is that my children may not grasp the goodness and excitement of the mighty deeds of God at Christmas or Easter for years to come. But by faithfully teaching them these things, I am preparing for them to understand and enjoy them as God opens their hearts. Through our traditions may we plant many seeds of beauty and truth for when the soil is soft.

January 21, 2010

Everyday Traditions: Treasuring God in our Traditions Part III

Everyday traditions are those special practices we do regularly that teach our children how to think about God and the world. They give them a sense of belonging, stability, and routine in the world. In my last post we looked at family devotions as an important everyday tradition. Now I would like to share with you some one of our unique everyday traditions.

When my first son Justus was born I discovered that there was not a lot of “playing” I could do with a three-week-old baby. So I spent a lot of time singing. Easter arrived less than a month after he came so I selected an Easter hymn to sing for that month with him everyday. “Jesus Paid it All” became a special song even after Easter had come and gone. My husband, who doesn’t do a lot of singing, decided “Amazing Grace” would be a good song to sing to him. We have kept these two special songs as Justus’s lullaby songs. He has heard at least one of them every time he’s gone to bed for the first two years of his life. As he grows, I hope the meaning  of these dear hymns grows with him. They are songs he can carry with him through all of life’s stages.
When my son Carson arrived a few months back, I selected two special songs for him. “In the Cross of Christ I Glory” was a song that had been dear to me during his pregnancy, and “O the Deep, Deep Love” was special because I listened to it over and over again to get through labor and delivery. Now he hears one of these songs every naptime and every night. They are prayers especially from my heart for him.

These songs are not just special tunes to lull my sons to sleep. They are not just gifts of truth for them to carry through life’s challenges. They are also gifts to myself. Every time I sing “Jesus Paid it All,” I have a precious reminder that the grace and blessings I’ve experienced that day are only possible through the goodness of my Savior who gave all to redeem me. Whenever I sing “In the Cross,” it gives me an opportunity to pray for my child to trust in Christ the crucified. These hymns can become mundane habits, but when I seize the moment, they turn into beautiful truths that teach my own heart and afford me opportunity to pray great and glorious things on behalf of my children. Traditions are not just for children, they are for grown-ups too.

There you have it, our own “everyday” tradition. Nothing complex or creative. Just real, daily, simple truth to permeate our home.

January 9, 2010

“Family Worship”: Treasuring God in Our Traditions Part II

First, see Part I of this series.

When I think of traditions, it is usually the special yearly events that come to mind: getting pajamas and house slippers on Christmas Eve, decorating our Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving, and sitting together as a family at church on Easter Sunday.  In Piper’s book, she shows how we pass on our values (what we treasure most) through our “everyday” traditions as well. These are the day-in-day-out habits and customs we build our lives around. They provide stability and dependence for our children and teach them about God.

The two most important “everyday” categories in Piper’s book are traditions that teach our children about God’s Word and Prayer. The examples she includes are daily family Bible reading and prayer time, worshiping together on Sunday mornings, personal devotions, spontaneous prayer throughout the day, mealtime prayer, and praying together as a couple. What I loved about this section of her book was the encouragement it afforded me as a parent. I had been feeling like I had to have a deep theological message to communicate through some intricate, creative platform for special occasions if I wanted to impart meaningful traditions to my children. Now I’m learning that the little things matter! And they matter a lot!

I’d like to share our family’s story about  family Bible reading and prayer time, or what many would call “family worship” or “family devotions.”

When our first son arrived in our family during early 2008, we were a part of a small group at our church that really challenged us in this area. The leader of the small group and the other families were actively having times of family worship in their homes each day. They continued to press upon us the benefit, or rather the necessity, or this spiritual discipline. Although I grew up in a Christian home, this was a new idea to me. The closest thing we had to family worship growing up was a month long attempt to have weekly family devotions. It quickly flopped. I had known a lot of great Christian families, but I only knew of one in all my life that actually prayed and read the Bible together as a whole on any regular basis. Strangely enough, I was starting to see that in some Christian circles this was as normal and essential as daily individual reading and prayer.

If you have ever been exposed to this idea, perhaps you’ll find the same struggles our family had. We couldn’t find a consistent time, we forgot to do it, we were tired, our son was sleepy, we were out, we had company, we were on vacation, and on and on…

I’m not going to take the time to argue the benefits of family devotion, but I’d like to encourage you that it can be done! We finally established the habit as a family and rarely miss a day except Sunday and Wednesday nights when we’re at church. I am so glad we have established this habit and look forward to it growing into a special time of intimacy for our family.

If your family has been struggling with this, here are some things that helped us…

  • Have accountability from another family
  • Set a time and a place that works well and is flexible
  • Always include guests-it’s not as awkward as you’d think and if you wait until they leave, you’ll never do it!
  • Don’t expect your spouse to remember! Sometimes as women we can expect the man to be the spiritual leader to the extent that we refuse to be a help-meet. Wives, if your husband is committed to family worship, but he forgets to initiate it at the set time, don’t hesitate to say “Honey, can we begin family worship now?” You’re a team on this! Its not time to twiddle your thumbs and wonder “Will he remember this time?”
  • Keep it short at first
  • When you forget a couple of days, keep going instead of quitting
  • Don’t expect spectacular, deep moments every time, right away
  • Wives, pray for your husbands to have a deep commitment to leading spiritually in this way
  • Read about or talk to other Christian families that have regular family devotions to impress upon your heart the values and benefits

I hope you’ll find these suggestions helpful for your family. And if I could encourage young couples with one thing: START THIS DISCIPLINE BEFORE YOU HAVE KIDS. Perhaps the transition will be smoother for you.

December 30, 2009

Review & Reflections: Treasuring God in our Traditions by Noel Piper (PART I)

I recently finished reading Treasuring God in our Traditions by Noel Piper. I would like to take the time to do a brief overview of the book and then follow it up with some reflections and discussion. This will probably be broken into four or five different posts.  To download the book for free (or order it), click here.

The Piper family has been very influential in my life and countless others. This book was most delightful to me because it provided a very intimate glimpse into the daily life of the Piper family over the years. It was enjoyable, helpful, and encouraging to see what traditions and practices they built their family on.

The first section of the book Noel begins by setting up for us what traditions are, what makes them important, and how they work. From some passages in Deuteronomy she defines tradition, in essence, as a “planned habit with significance” that hands down information, beliefs, and worldview. More importantly, tradition for the Christian family involves “laying up God’s words in our own hearts and passing his words to the next generation.”

My desire as a parent has been to establish traditions for my family that will give my children a passion for God and a deep knowledge of Him. I’ll admit I’ve been overwhelmed in trying to think through all of this. However, reading Noel’s book has been immensely helpful in focusing my thoughts. Her underlying philosophy and her practical overflow, made me feel so equipped to supply meaningful traditions to my family. In fact, I found it encouraging to see that some of the “little” things we’ve been doing as a family are valuable and meaningful as well. Here are three key questions she asks that are the overflow of her book:

  • What is my greatest treasure? What is most precious to me?
  • How do I reflect and express that treasure in my life?
  • How can I pass that treasure on to my children and others within my circle?

The first set of questions has to do with our heart. Do we love and treasure Christ the most? Is He are supreme treasure and joy? If so, then we have something of infinite value to pass on to others. If not, our traditions will reflect whatever it is our hearts cling to.

It is the final question that I would like to explore through the remaining posts.  Noel divides the passing on of tradition into the “everyday” and the “especially.” I hope to share with you my own reflections and practices on these areas in the remaining posts. Please stay tuned!

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