Seasonal Family Devotional Bookmark

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A couple of months ago, I posted a series of devotional readings for Advent and Christmastide, which walked through the highlights of the Old Testament and the Christmas narratives from the gospels. Then, just last week I shared a plan for reading through the Gospel of Mark throughout the season of Lent, supplemented by messianic psalms on the Sundays throughout Lent and Eastertide.

And now, here’s a printable bookmark that includes both these sets of readings in a handy format you can stick right in your Bible.  I hope you find it useful!

Also, I should note that I shortened some of the Advent readings, since they were potentially taxing on kids’ attention spans. So, if you found them too long, you might prefer this revised version.

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Walking with Jesus: Devotional Readings for Lent and Eastertide

On March 1st, many Christians around the world will begin observing the season of Lent, a period of forty days of preparation (not counting Sundays) leading up to the greatest day of the church year – the feast of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. This feast begins yet another forty day season – Eastertide, which commemorates the forty days Jesus spent on earth with his disciples before his ascension into heaven.

stained-glass-1234424As with Advent and Christmastide, our family takes a break from reading through the whole Bible in our daily devotions to follow a special reading plan for Lent and Eastertide. Every Sunday throughout these seasons, we read a psalm that depicts the Messiah’s sufferings (during Lent) and victory (during Eastertide). In addition, on the weekdays of Lent we read through the entire Gospel of Mark.

Of course, unlike Advent and Christmas, many evangelicals are wary of Lent, and with some reason. For much of Christian history, Lent has primarily been a time of mandatory fasting. Because the Bible nowhere commands such a practice, the protestant reformers rightly championed the freedom of Christians to ignore the ecclesiastical laws prohibiting the consumption of meat during Lent. Many of the churches that embraced their recovery of biblical teaching have thus downplayed or outright opposed the celebration of Lent.

I am in full agreement with this response to the imposition of extra-biblical requirements. After all, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration, or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17). This means that, while fasting is a good and helpful spiritual discipline, no one can tell anyone else when and how they should fast. Observing a man-made festival does not make one a better Christian or more acceptable to God than someone who does not observe it.

All that to say, I don’t think observing Lent (or Easter, or Christmas, or any other traditional festival) is required of believers. But I do think that it can be a useful tool. In particular, I and my family have found the preparation time of Lent to be helpful in underlining the importance of Easter. This matters, because Easter really gets the short end of the stick. Whether it’s the fact that the date of Easter moves around in a wacky and arcane way (it depends on the calculation of “ecclesiastical new moons“) or because the birth of a baby is easier to incorporate into superficial religiosity than the death and resurrection of the Son of God, Christmas is a much bigger deal in our culture and our churches than Easter, which is much more central to our faith.

In our family, we treat Lent in somewhat the same way as Advent – a time of preparation. As with Advent, we light candles at dinnertime. Only this time, instead of lighting more candles as we draw near to the celebration of Christ’s incarnation, we begin with seven lit candles in the shape of a cross and then extinguish one each Friday, symbolizing Jesus’ willing laying aside of his glory and humbling himself unto death. Then, on Easter Sunday all the candles are lit again and continue to be lit each evening until Ascension. We also spread out the consumption of our Easter Candy throughout Eastertide to savor the joy of the resurrection. And, of course, we read the Gospel of Mark on the forty weekdays of Lent and Psalms on the Sundays.

We’ve been following this reading plan for the last few years, and we’ve really found it a great way to renew our focus on Jesus and to dig deeper as a family into knowing him through his word. Mark is probably the earliest and certainly the shortest and most action-oriented of the four gospels, and our kids really get into hearing the story of Jesus directly from the Bible. The readings from Mark are mostly fairly short (though they get longer during Holy Week), and I’ve endeavored to organize them into groups that reflect the structure and message of Mark. The Psalms are selected especially on the basis of their use in the New Testament as prophesies or foreshadowings of the Messiah. We would love to have you join us in this devotional journey, either as an individual or as a family. If you’d like to give it a try you can download it here.

It is my prayer that God would use his word to draw my family and yours into a deeper sense of gratitude for the person and work of Jesus and a greater joy in the salvation we have through his death and resurrection.

Image credit: matt coley, http://www.freeimages.com/photo/stained-glass-1234424

Nurturing the Spiritual Life of My Kids

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These days, my four-year-old son is learning a whole host of new skills, like writing the alphabet, singing in tune, riding a bike, and drawing ladybugs. He’s making up jokes and figuring out how to cut a sandwich (see picture) and covering his mouth when he coughs. He’s developing the desire and ability to be genuinely helpful with everyday tasks like getting dressed,  setting the table, and getting the stroller out of the garage. Seeing him growing and maturing – and helping that process along – is one of the most satisfying things I have ever experienced.

There are lots of things I want my kids to learn as they grow up. But what’s most important? What is the biggest lesson I want my kids to learn during these few years I have them in my home before they get launched out into the world?

As a Christian, I know the answer: the most important thing I can teach my children is to know, love, and trust in Jesus Christ. This means more than getting them to pray a one-off prayer asking Jesus into their heart; it means training them for a life of trusting and following him no matter what. It means nurturing a faith that will stand the test of time.

Nurturing my children’s faith can come in many forms. It happens when I rebuke them for self-serving and rebellious behavior, or when I ask them to forgive me for my own sinful actions and desires. It happens in everyday conversations about our gracious Creator when we’re looking up at the stars or talking about where cheese comes from. It happens when I sing over them while they’re falling asleep at the end of the day. It weaves its way into all of life; we talk about God and his goodness when we sit down and as we walk along the road and when we wake up and when we go to sleep (Deuteronomy 6:7).

A crucial part of my job of nurturing my children’s faith is the discipline of family devotions. While there are opportunities to disciple our children all throughout every part of our daily life, setting aside (i.e. “devoting”) a regular time to focus on God and his word is absolutely indispensable. It anchors and enables all our other efforts and spiritual nurturing. Stopping everything else to listen to God’s word consciously and explicitly demonstrates that God’s purposes are more important than ours. It reminds us all that faith in Christ is not some optional extra that we can just plug into our own agendas.

Just as my own spiritual growth and health depend on getting a personal daily devotional time, so my children need me to nurture their spiritual life by leading them in family devotions.

So, how do we do it?

In our home, we do devotions in a couple of different ways. Most mornings, Rebecca reads to the kids from a Bible storybook. (Our favorites so far are The Big Picture Story Bible and The Jesus Storybook Bible.) Every evening after dinner we pray for one of the missionaries pictured on our fridge and then read a chapter of the Bible while we eat our dessert (because God’s word is sweet!). Then we talk about what the Bible said, pray, and get ready for bed.

There are, of course, lots of pre-packaged devotional resources out there. Some of them can be helpful, and like I said, we do read Bible stories out of picture books in the mornings. But we really want our kids’ main devotional diet to be the Bible itself. They don’t understand everything, of course, but that’s OK. They’re picking up things as they go, and we help them by re-telling the story and explaining the message. (A bonus of this is that it forces us to really think about and understand the Bible ourselves. Knowing you need to answer someone else’s questions is a great motivator!) And there will be opportunities for review; we’ll cover all this material a couple more times for each of our kids before they turn 18.

Advent is actually the one time of the year when we don’t just read straight from the Bible. Instead, we go through The Advent Book, which contains a slightly-reworded version of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth hidden behind 24 exquisitely-designed paper doors. This year, we’ll also be reading some passages about Jesus’ first and second comings on the four Sundays of Advent. On November 29, we’ll read Isaiah 40:1-11; on December 6, we’ll read Isaiah 9:1-7; on December 13, we’ll read Isaiah 11:1-9; and on December 20, we’ll read Revelation 21-22.

If you want to develop a practice of nurturing your kids with regular family devotions, Advent is a great time to start! You can follow the same plan we do, find another one you like better, or make up your own. Whatever you do, get your kids (and yourself) into God’s word; then watch them grow in loving and following Jesus.

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth (3 John 4).