Feb 022016
 

lent

Growing up in a liturgical church setting, Lent was a somber time of contemplation.  Ashes crossed foreheads.  The hymn selection on the old pipe organ only included minor, dissonant sounding chords.  Black cloth draped the altar.  Items were given up.  I remember hearing many of my friends complaining about unsingable melodies and the number of services they attended during Holy Week.  While I kept my mouth shut about how I really felt, Good Friday, was actually one of my favorite days of the year.

For a long time, saying so made me feel a little bit guilty and morbid.  Sure I loved watching the sunrise through stained glass windows on Easter and hearing Lutheran voices belting out “He is risen indeed” with more emotion and joy than you’d hear the congregation use all year long.  But what I found equally, if not more, compelling was the quiet reverence and aching sorrow that echoed as each station of the cross was described.  The realness of my sin exposed.  The penalty willingly endured and paid for by Immanuel–God with us.  Even from a young age, I realized that Easter only came through Good Friday.  Both equally necessary for redemption to occur.

Lent in many ways has gotten a bad wrap.  The idea of giving something up for the 40+ days before Easter in some ways has become highly ritualistic and unattached from what the season really is about.  People abstain from certain foods or vices with a desire not to draw closer to God, but to lose weight, be a better person, or even as a way to earn forgiveness.  Others attempt to sacrifice because of a desire to win the approval of man or from a distorted view of obligation.  On the other extreme, Easter in many ways has become a holiday for consumers.  Jelly beans, eggs, and bunnies encourage us to bypass the crucifixion and instead focus on cultural icons tied more closely to sugar and spring than anything else.

The truth is, Lent is about the gospel.  It is…

…a time for us to slow down and focus on the work of Christ.

…a season to repent from sin and trust in His work on the cross. 

….a reminder that the empty tomb only comes through the cross.

…meant to help us prepare ourselves for the joy of the resurrection as we enter into the sorrow and pain that came first.

…a reminder that we live in the “already, but not yet.” 

Lent lasts 40 days excluding Sundays, which makes it about 46 days altogether.  This season, we invite your family to participate in a weekly devotional designed to help prepare your family to celebrate the fullness of what Easter truly is.  Each week, you will participate in a brief scripture reading, discussion, and prayer time.  At the end, you will use candles to remember the darkness of sin and later, the living hope of Easter. Instead of lighting a candle like we might do during Advent, we will extinguish a candle each week as we contemplate the brokenness of sin and Jesus’ journey toward the cross.  During the last week, we will relight all 7 candles as a way to celebrate the promise both of the resurrection and what it ultimately points to—the day when Jesus returns to make all things new. You can pick up a copy of the devotional along with a set of seven tea lights while supplies last at the Crossing Kids registration area.  You can also download the devotional here.

Since Lent may be a new season for you or a season desperately in need of redemption given your past experiences with it, we have provided a list of additional reading that might help you better understand its significance. Please know that we are praying for you as you help your family contemplate and prepare this season.

Dec 052015
 

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There are so many things my husband, Nathan, and I find ourselves regretting that we do or say as parents. But, one that I’m fairly confident we will not regret is taking the time to read to our children–especially books that encourage them to have a bigger, truer view of our God. Over the past year or so, we’ve really enjoyed reading the five devotional-type books below with our kids, ages 4, 6, and 8 at the time. (We’ve also used and liked these 7 great children’s Bible story books in the past.)

Do we read the Bible or a devotional every night with our children? Well, honestly, no. Some nights mom and dad are just too spent. But, on the whole over the years, we’ve tried to gather regularly before bed and read and pray together. One of the sweet results of this routine is that my kids expect it and even remind us at times. I hope and pray this translates to a personal love for and discipline in reading God’s Word as adults.

An important side note for parents who haven’t started this routine yet or feel intimidated: From my 15 professional years experience in children’s ministry, it’s NEVER too late to start reading the Bible or devotional books to your kids. If you’ve never started this routine or feel intimidated by the thought, don’t be discouraged. Talk with your children about the books below and maybe involve them in the decision about which one or two to begin with. And maybe explain to them that you can all learn together (I know I certainly learned a lot from the books below!). You do not have to have all the answers for your kids in order to read about God to them. I am convinced our children will remember most of all our example and heart for the Lord, rather than what we did and didn’t read or what we know and don’t know!

Some of these devotionals below are more appropriate for younger or older ages, as I’ve indicated. We’ve found one way to engage our older child is to have him read the devotional out loud to the younger children when using a “younger kid” book. We’ve also noticed that the 4-year-old really gleans more than we think when reading the “big kid” ones, and he’s learning to sit still and listen for longer and longer stretches as a result. So, don’t be afraid to try some of these with a wide variety of ages.

Here are five of our favorite devotional books and why, in no particular order. May God bless your desire to teach your children about the One who created them and loves them more than we can imagine. 

  1. Exploring Grace Together: 40 Devotionals for the Family by Jessica Thompson

Exploring Grace Together

Exploring Grace Together is one of the best devotionals I have run across for elementary-aged children. As Thompson makes clear in this book, “Children need more than behavior modification. They need the gospel.” And what I love most about this devotional is that each chapter uses a simple scenario or story of an elementary-aged child who is facing something (a trial, a temptation, a battle with sin, disappointment, a chance to serve others, etc) and how he/she can practically apply gospel-truths to his/her situation. Then, Thompson includes three outstanding comprehension and application questions at the end for parents and kids to discuss. Bravo Jessica Thompson for a well-done, grace-centered family devotional!

2) Everything a Child Should Know About God by Kenneth N. Taylor

Everything a Child Should Know About God

Everything a Child Should Know About God is probably most appropriate for ages 3-6, but older and younger children will certainly benefit from this simple yet profound children’s book of systematic theology. In each chapter, the book addresses a question about God, Jesus, Salvation, The Bible, Christian living and more, providing an engaging illustration and a clear, age-appropriate answer. Even adults can learn from this clear-cut look at the basics of Christianity.

3) The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden by Kevin DeYoung

The Biggest Story

The Biggest Story is intended for ages 5-8 (as a read aloud) and ages 8-11 (as a “read to myself” book). My four-year-old enjoyed and followed along just fine, though. This devotional book will give your family a view of the Bible from 10,000 feet, so to speak–helping you to see how God’s plan of redemption through Jesus for his people is the main theme of the entire Bible from beginning to end. I would say the very best part of this “big picture” story Bible are the illustrations by Don Clark. We had several in-depth conversations about what the symbols on each page might mean and how they connect to the story. I have found my non-reader and young reader thumbing through the book on their own several times.

4) Mighty Acts of God: A Family Bible Storybook by Starr Meade

Mighty Acts of God

Mighty Acts of God claims to be for ages 8 and up, but from our experience, ages 5 or 6 and up can participate. Instead of focusing on Bible characters in each story like many children’s Bibles, each of these 90 Bible stories focus on a particular character trait or truth about God. Each God-focused Bible story is “retold in lively, modern-day language from a Reformed perspective”. My 8-year-old, in fact, read the entire thing on his own after we read it aloud a few times. He was fascinated by all the background information included that helped him grasp more of the context of each story. Although I felt like the application questions at the end of each chapter were a bit cumbersome (and the easiest for parents to lead), overall the book is worth buying and reading.

5) Little Pilgrim’s Progress: From John Bunyan’s Classic by Helen L. Taylor

Little Pilgrim's Progress

This children’s simplified rendition of John Bunyan’s classic isn’t new. In fact, it’s been around for over 55 years, and we’ve already read it twice in our family. The reason for its popularity is that it’s both “a simple adventure story and a profound allegory of the Christian journey through life”. This delightful read, which my children (it’s especially exciting to boys) adamantly requested night after night, filled our hearts with a message almost all ages (probably ages 4 and up) can understand and remember. We were literally crying together in the last chapters as our friend Christian finally makes it to the Celestial City. Little Pilgrim’s Progress has also inspired many spiritual conversations in the car, around the dinner table, etc. A must read for all children (and adults)!

Parents, have you used a great family devotional with your kids? Please share below!

Dec 032015
 

At last night’s Family Christmas Celebration, we learned that Jesus is God’s greatest gift of generosity to sinners like you and me.  When sin entered the world, it broke our perfect relationship with God and others. Because of this, we need a rescuer/redeemer.  God sent Jesus to be this rescuer/redeemer. He is the greatest gift of all and the real reason we celebrate at Christmas time.  God generously gave us His Son, even while we were sinners.  Understanding God’s great generosity changes how we treat others. We can love, serve, and give to others during this season because God first loved, served, and gave to us.

One way that you can encourage your family to apply what we learned is to create a Generosity Jar.  If you attended the event, you should have left with a copy.  If you were unable to make it, we have extra copies available for pick up on Sunday morning near the Crossing Kids checkin area.  We’ve also included a copy of the instructions below.

 

Generosity Jar
Family Christmas Celebration 2015
Take Home

Introduction
Ask: Have you ever heard of the word “generosity?” What does it mean to be generous? Can you think of a time where someone did or gave something generous to you? Can you think of a time where you were generous to someone else?

Say: When we attended Family Christmas Celebration together, we learned a lot about the word generous. We learned that generosity is giving more of something than what is expected. We learned that Jesus is God’s greatest gift of generosity to sinners like you and me.  Do you remember the memory verse they shared with us? Let’s practice it together now.

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.
Isaiah 9:6

Generosity Discussion
Ask:  Why was it generous for God the Father to send Jesus to the world? (The world was broken and filled with sinners like you and me. Our relationship with God was broken because we sin, or disobey God with our thoughts, words, and actions. We can’t fix this brokenness on our own. We need God to do it for us.)

How has Jesus been generous to you and me? (He left his throne in heaven and came to our messy, broken world. He lived a perfect life in our place, died, and rose again so that we could have a relationship with him and spend forever in heaven with him if we trust in Him as our Savior. He gives us everything we need. All of the good gifts we have on earth come from him.)

Say: When we understand God’s great generosity to us, it changes how we treat others. We can love, serve, and give to others during this season because God first loved, served, and gave to us. Let’s read a few verses about generosity together now.

1 Chronicles 29:14—But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.

What does this verse say about generosity? (Everything we have comes from God already. We can only give what he’s first given to us.)

Proverbs 11:25—A generous person will prosper whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.

What does this verse say about generosity? (Being generous doesn’t just bless the person we’re being generous to, it blesses us as well. Being generous takes our eyes off of ourselves/what we want and places it on other people.)

Matthew 6:21—Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and rust do not destroy and where thieves cannot break in and steal. For wherever your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

What does this verse say about generosity? (Our hearts are always connected to what we treasure. When we struggle to give/be generous, it’s likely because our hearts are holding onto something/valuing something too much. Giving generously reminds us that our true treasure is in heaven, not on earth.)

1 John 3:1a—See what great love the Father has lavished* on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are.

1 John 4:19—We love because God first loved us.

What do these verses say about generosity? (God has given so much to us! Because He made us His children/He first loved us, we can love and give generously to others.)

*Note that lavished just means to give generously.

Say: There are three main ways that we can give generously to other people—through our time, through our treasure, and through our talents.

Ask:

What do you think it means to give generously through our time? (Spending our time loving/serving other people.)

What do you think it means to give generously through our treasure? (Using our money or resources to buy or give something to someone else.)

What do you think it means to give generously through our talents? (Using the things we’re good at/gifted at to bless other people.)

Generosity Jar Activity Directions

Say: Tonight we’re going to create a Generosity Jar. In this jar, we will brainstorm ways that we can give generously to others using our time, our treasure, and our talents. We’ll write down these ideas on a slip of paper and place them into the jar. We’ll take some time throughout the month of December to pull these ideas out of the jar and use them as ways to give to others.

Step One: Decorate your jar.

Step Two: Brainstorm/record ideas of ways to give generously. Use the categories time, treasure, and talent, to help you.

Option for Older Kids: Give each child a few slips of paper and have them discuss and write down ideas they have.

Option for Younger Kids: Brainstorm ideas together as a family. Write down the ideas onto the paper for them.

Step Three: Pull slips of paper from the jar throughout the month of December and give generously to others. You can also use the jar to collect spare change to give away at the end of the month.

Pray
God thank you for giving your Son Jesus to us as the greatest, most generous gift of all. Please help us to understand your great generosity to us more and more so that we can love, serve, and give to others this season because you first loved, served, and gave to us. Amen.

*We’d love to see how your family uses your Generosity Jar. Take pictures and share them on our Facebook page this month. https://www.facebook.com/CrossingKids

Jun 052015
 

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This post was written by Kristin Jeffries, our Crossing Kids Programming Director.

If you joined us for kids club, or if you’ve just been catching up on what we did from home, you probably have seen this phrase a lot. “Stan firm and take action.” After saying, singing, and leading motions to this verse all week I feel like I should now be going out to change the world; spreading the morals and teachings of Christ to a broken culture. Perhaps this is just a product of being part of the “activist millennial” age group, but hopefully that urge to “do” is a relatable feeling.

If we look at this verse in it’s wider context however, or even just as it applied to Daniel’s life, “taking action” may in fact seem fairly passive. Time and time again for Daniel taking action simply meant doing what is right. We saw that in the form of not eating certain foods, giving loving but firm advice when asked, or even just praying to God in his own home. Daniel is respectful to and has good relationships with others who hold different beliefs than he does. Sure, he will share his beliefs with them and his behavior may sometimes differ from the cultural norms of his peers, but from the stories we looked at this week he is far from the activist that the phrase “take action” might suggest.

So where does that leave us? I am by no means saying that we shouldn’t be actively spreading the gospel or standing up for our faith. (Matthew 28:19 would beg to differ.) I am saying we need to “take action” in our own relationship with God first. The more I ruminate on the lessons that were taught this last week, the more inspired I am to actively pursue a more intimate relationship with God and a greater knowledge of His word. In two of our stories taking action was praying to God regularly and earnestly. Knowing that no conversation is more important than communing with God daily. Prayer was often where Daniel and his friends got their strength, and the same should be true for us.

We should also aim to “stand firm.” Our only hope of doing this is to have a solid foundation to stand on! We can proclaim good morals all we want, but unless we are also reading God’s word and learning from it, we will find it extremely difficult to stand when our beliefs are put to the test. Psalm 119:10-11 (ESV) says:

10 With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
11 I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.

These verses shows us the importance of knowing God’s word in order to live out our faith, as does our memory verse in whole. “The people who know their God, shall stand firm and take action.” Knowledge of God is the condition for standing firm and taking action.

My prayer for myself, and for any of you reading this as well, is that God would grant us the desire to know Him better. That He would use this past week to motivate us so that we might actively seek Him and firmly live out our faith in Him.

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Dec 012014
 

I can think of many holiday seasons where the idea of baking cookies, watching snow fall, hanging lights, and listening to holiday music felt nothing but appropriate. I’ve also lived through holiday seasons and am currently experiencing one right now that doesn’t feel holly or jolly. The glitz and the glimmer at times feel like they are actively assaulting my soul, taunting me with triteness, reminding me of things I wish weren’t true of my life and circumstances. It’s true that grief doesn’t just surface in places like the doctor’s office or a cemetery. It can lay dormant waiting to pounce in the checkout isle of Target or during a seemingly benign conversation with a coworker. Christmas can trigger nostalgic joy and happy anticipation. It can also trigger a season of amplified loneliness and grief. It can remind us that our life doesn’t measure up to a Norman Rockwell Christmas card or even our own more realistic expectations.

My heart is heavy this holiday season. My days feel anything but merry and bright. I feel like decking my halls in sackcloth. Bearing the weight of deep sadness, disappointment, and fear my lips struggle to mouth the words of the songs my soul desperately needs on Sunday mornings. Sometimes it feels as though I expend more energy fighting tears than anything else right now.

In this season of giving thanks, I’m reminded that even in my pain there is much to be grateful for. Towards the top of my list is a season called Advent. Advent comes from a Latin word that means “coming.” It’s an opportunity to reflect on the humble birth of Christ and the anxious wait of His return in glory. It’s a reminder that we live in between the comings of Christ, the already, but the not yet. During this season, we are reminded that waiting, longing, and angst are very much a part of the Christian life. Just as God’s people and prophets groaned and ached for the Messiah hundreds of years ago, we too groan and ache for Christ to return and make everything sad come untrue.

In his book What Jesus Demands from the WorldJohn Piper writes,

When Jesus demands that we rejoice, he has not forgotten the kind of world we live in. It is filled with suffering…For Jesus the demand for joy is a way to live with suffering and to outlast suffering. Therefore, this joy is serious. It’s the kind you fight for by cutting off your hand (Matt. 5:30) and selling your possessions (Matt. 13:44) and carrying a cross with Jesus to Calvary (Matt. 10:38-39). It has scars. It sings happy songs with tears. It remembers the dark hours and knows that more are coming. The road to heaven is a hard road, but it is not joyless. 

Much of this quote reflects exactly what Advent means to me. Advent is about a deep, serious, abiding joy that doesn’t ignore the pain of life but doesn’t buckle underneath its weight either. It acknowledges the difficulty but continues to trust, hope, and rest in a faithful, loving God. Advent gives me permission to celebrate in the midst of all of my hurt this December. It reminds me that Christmas is at its core about a God who enters into our suffering and pain and keeps His promises. So I will light candles and hang lights and I will sing those happy songs with tears. Just like God’s people many years ago I will wait as they waited and I will long as they longed.

Come Lord Jesus, come redeem us, we will wait for You.

holly

Photo Credit

Jul 222014
 

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Last Sunday as I pulled into the parking lot, I took notice of the construction site around the building in a new way.  This is because a large chunk of my last week was spent in a remote village in the mountains of Guatemala working with a team of people from The Crossing and Guatemala to build a new church.  When you sit down to have a conversation with their pastor, Miguel Anjel, it would be easy to focus on the ways his job is different from ours.  He works in an extremely impoverished area where the basic needs of those he pastors quite often are not met despite the grueling way the people work.  He works in an area where most of the people are Mayan and speak a dialect of Quiche, a language the Bible has yet to be translated in and a language that the people quite often only know how to speak, not read.  He lives on the side of a mountain, a mountain people quite often have to hike up an hour or more just to attend church.

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When I listened to Miguel talk about his church and his people, though, I was more struck by what we have in common.  When Miguel talks about what’s happening in Chuabaj, he talks about how God is changing lives.  He tells stories of people whose hearts and lives and marriages and addictions and pain are being transformed by the Gospel.  When Miguel talks about how the rough structure they currently meet in can no longer contain the flood of people who walk up and down the side of a mountain, he talks of making room for someone else the way others made room for him.  Even organizing a lesson for the children of the church reminded me of Sunday mornings at The Crossing.  Originally we were told to expect 40 children.  When we opened the doors, a stream of 88 made their way into the room!  Our culture, our language, our geography all might be drastically different, but our similarities are all the more impressive.  They too are building to change lives.  They too are making sacrifices, albeit far more drastic, so that others can hear the Gospel.
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You are likely aware that The Crossing financially supports the ministry of ASELSI in Guatemala along with supporting Ron and Sally Widbin.  The Crossing also sponsors two trips each year where The Crossing pays for the supplies the group will need to accomplish what the group will do for the week.  This year a large chunk of the $5,000 went to build a church in Chuabaj.  When Ron and Sally went to purchase the building supplies, they were met with complete disbelief.  Disbelief that a group of Americans would care about what God was doing in their village.  Disbelief that 28 gringos would carry the supplies up and down the hill alongside their Guatemalan brothers and sisters.  Disbelief for how the Lord provided for them through people they had never met.  Disbelief that what was once a lofty dream for the region is slowly becoming a reality.  They were overwhelmed by the generosity of The Crossing, the first church in Guatemala or the U.S., to partner with them in this way.  They prayed for us, they cried tears of joy and amazement, and they even killed their own chickens that they worked so hard to purchase and raise to make all 28 of us an extremely generous lunch.  They gave their very best.  The truth is, the members of this church continually give their very best.  The labor on the church is done 100% through church volunteers who give up a day’s wages to create a place for more people to worship.  Aside from The Crossing’s donation, those same cinder blocks are purchased as people who have very little give what they do have.
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Whether you realize it or not, God is using you to grow His kingdom, not just in Mid-Missouri but all over the world.  He is using you, your talents, your finances to change lives both in Columbia and in places like this remote mountain village in Guatemala.  Over and over again the people told us to share their thanks with those who sent us.  Thank you.
Jun 122014
 

Tonight at Kids Club, our young heroes in training will learn that Jesus is the greatest Hero of all because he is Omnipotent.

If you’re a parent or volunteer, please take a minute to complete the devotional below to prepare your heart for time with kids and important follow up conversations. You can also download an electronic version of the devotional here.

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Jun 112014
 

Tonight at Kids Club, our young heroes in training will learn that Jesus is the greatest Hero of all because he is our Rescuer–He saves His people from sin.

If you’re a parent or volunteer, please take a minute to complete the devotional below to prepare your heart for time with kids and important follow up conversations. You can also download an electronic version of the devotional here.

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Jun 102014
 

Tonight at Kids Club, our young heroes in training will learn that Jesus is the greatest Hero of all because he is Exalted–He ranks far above everything else because He is God.

If you’re a parent or volunteer, please take a minute to complete the devotional below to prepare your heart for time with kids and important follow up conversations. You can also download an electronic version of the devotional here.

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Jun 092014
 

Tonight at Kids Club, our young heroes in training will learn that Jesus is the greatest Hero of all because he is Holy–completely perfect and without sin.  If you’re a parent or volunteer, please take a minute to complete the devotional below to prepare your heart for time with kids and important follow up conversations.  You can also download an electronic version of the devotional here.

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