How to Raise Changing Children in a Changing Culture

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Starting a new job always requires a few months of settling in before feeling comfortable with various tasks—knowing how to do things, when to do them, and what to avoid altogether. After a few months, things begin to run relatively smoothly and eventually, after years of experience, you become an expert in your field.

Parenting has a completely different professional growth trajectory.

Just when you understand babies, they’re already toddlers—with an entirely new parenting job description. The toddler then heads to preschool—and to elementary school, middle school, and high school—with further changes each step of the way. And just when you have school sorted out, they go off to college, with a new set of parenting dynamics. After college, there’s the potential for in-laws and grandchildren. Our parenting journey is in a constant state of flux, and we rarely feel like experts in our field. How can we find stable footing along the way?

I corresponded with Paul Tripp, author of Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles that Can Radically Change Your Family. (Sign up to hear Tripp address the topic of parenting at our upcoming 2017 National Conference, April 3 to 5 in Indianapolis.) For those of us raising constantly changing children in a constantly changing culture, Tripp offers biblical principles that stand the test of time.

What’s one practice you’d encourage parents with young kids to do to help foster good communication in the teen years?

I always have one single piece of advice for the parents of teens: Don’t let your relationship with them fade away. Often the sweetness and closeness of the parent-child relationship is nearly gone during these years, and an awkwardness and distance sets in. Don’t let your teenager cast the mold of your relationship. Here’s why. Parenting is entirely relational. You cannot effectively be used of God as an instrument of rescue and transformation in the life of someone with whom you have little functional relationship. Heart and life change always takes place in the context of relationship.

Think of the gospel model—the way God works in your life. He first draws you in with an unbreakable bond of love (justification), then tranforms you into what he wants you to be (sanctification). Only those who have been justified by his grace will ever be sanctified by that same grace.

So, do everything you can to create and maintain a loving, tender, patient, and gracious relationship with your teenager. Pursue him each day. Verbalize your love each day. Hug and kiss her each day. Confess your irritation, impatience, and harsh words over and over again. Love him as much when he is undeserving as when he is deserving. Regularly invite her out for an evening, just the two of you, for dinner and some activity. Go to their extracurricular activities. Be glad to provide transportation. Do anything you can to be together and communicate your affection. When you must have a hard talk, don’t do it on the fly. Make an appointment so you are emotionally calm, have time to communicate with affection, and are able to talk about hard things with grace. And don’t forget to pray daily that God would bless you with his grace so you can be a tool of grace in the life of your teenager.

What’s the purpose of parenting? What does the world say is the purpose?

There are only two models of parenting.

The first is an ownership model. Here the driving motivation is that these children belong to me and I have the right to form them into what I want them to be. Usually this model is informed and directed by cultural models of what a successful person looks like. So I set the rules I think are best, use whatever power I have to enforce them, and mete out whatever punishments I think are best when the child goes outside the boundaries of my rules. The ownership model emphasizes the parent’s ability to restrain and control the child’s behavior until he or she exits the home.

The ambassador model is profoundly different in every way: Parents understand their children do not belong to them, but to God. They know their work is ambassadorial—their job is to represent the purposes, character, and methods of God. So they constantly ask: What does God desire in the lives of my children, and how can I be part of it? Their labor is driven by biblical values rather than cultural norms.

There’s one other crucial element to the ambassador model. Parents embrace their complete inability to change the hearts and lives of their kids. They recognize their role as instruments in the hands of the One who alone has the power to create lasting change. So they look for every opportunity to be tools of God’s convicting, forgiving, rescuing, transforming, and delivering grace in their children’s lives. Their goal is to exercise parental authority as a beautiful reflection of the authority of him who called them to their parental task—so they constantly cry out for grace to represent the heavenly Father well.

There’s a lot of hustle and bustle in a teen’s world these days. Between homework, sports, music lessons, and service activities, they can feel enormous pressure. What’s the most important thing parents can do to help teens navigate a busy and stressful world?

Every Christian parent must ask a critical question again and again, or they will lose their way in the chaos of information, pressures, and influences of the culture in which they raise their kids: What set of values determines the goals, activities, and schedule of our family? 

You simply can’t squeeze a biblical model of parenting into a frenetic schedule shaped by the world’s view of what a successful child looks like. Many well-meaning parents have little or no relational or instructional time with their children because they’re running from activity to activity, fearful their kids will somehow miss out. It’s so vital to keep focused on what God wants to form in the heart and life of your children, and what you need to do to be a tool of his agenda. Ask yourself:Lightstock

Are you giving yourself the time necessary to build and maintain a relationship of love? Are you setting aside time for family worship? Is there time to share relaxed moments and discuss what’s truly important in life? Is your schedule driven an agenda of heart and life transformation, or by activities and achievements? Do biblical values shape whether you say “yes” or “no” to adding another activity? In the busyness of life, are you working to build into your kids a constant awareness of God and their need for his grace?

Asking these questions again and again protects you from the pressures that can cause you to lose your way.

When disciplining children and holding them accountable for their actions, how do parents usually fall short in teaching grace? 

Too many parents unwittingly fall into the trap of expecting the law to do what only grace can accomplish. They think if they set up a neat system of rules, enforcements, and punishments, their children will be okay. But if all our kids needed was moral information and moral control, Jesus would have never had to come. Yes, our children need God’s law because it exposes their sin and shows them how to live. But the law has no power to rescue, restore, and transform their hearts. Lasting change in a child’s behavior always flows from the heart, and only grace can change a child in this way.

It’s vital to understand grace. Grace isn’t about being permissive, because grace never calls wrong right. If wrong was right, there’d be no need for grace. Grace is quick to acknowledge wrong as wrong, but instead of moving away from a person in criticism, judgment, and condemnation, grace moves toward them with forgiveness, tender instruction, loving correction, and the patient exercise of authority. It’s not enough for parents to be the child’s law-giver, policeman, prosecutor, judge, and jailor. We must look for every opportunity to share grace—it alone has the ability to open the eyes and unsettle the hearts of our children so they run to the Redeemer where real help can be found.

Why are so many parents discouraged, worn out, and overwhelmed, and how would you encourage or counsel them? How can parents find rest and peace amid the challenges they face?

Many loving, well-intentioned Christian parents get up each morning and load the spiritual, emotional, and physical wellbeing of their children on their shoulders. Although they claim to believe God is with them, they act as if they’ve been left alone in their parenting task. They think it’s their job to change their children. If you parent this way, you’ll progressively crank up the size of your threats, the heat of your emotions, and the sting of your words, asking these things to do what they have no power to do. You’ll end up doing and saying things you shouldn’t in a frustrated attempt to force change in your children.

No wonder so many parents are frustrated, discouraged, and exhausted! How liberating to know the wise heavenly Father is with you at every moment, and he is parenting everyone in the room. How freeing to know God carries the burden of your children’s welfare, and he’ll never ask you to do what only he can do. How good to know you haven’t been asked to be the change-agent, but rather a willing tool in the hands of the One who has the power to rescue, redeem, and transform your kids. How important to know he doesn’t condemn you in your weakness and failure, but meets you with forgiveness and empowering grace.

You can go to bed knowing he loves your children, and because he does, he’s put them in a family of faith—your family. He’ll reveal their needs to you so you can be a tool of his work in their lives. You don’t carry the weight of their ultimate welfare; he does. All he calls you to do is faithfully represent him, to play the role of ambassador. He will do the rest.

The Top 5 Middle School Problems Tweens Face

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The Top 5 Middle School Problems Tweens Face

Several months after going on staff with a youth outreach organization I took around forty middle schoolers to camp for a week. I introduced myself to every kid before they got on the bus. My interactions with each of the kids were awkward, but I was confident it would get better as the week went on. It didn’t. Every time I said hello to a kid on my trip they looked at me like I just asked them how to synthesize a methylated alkaloid. All I got was confusion and a blank stare. Every exchange had an amazing dose of weirdness. I felt like I was taking crazy pills. There may have been some malice in their treatment of me, but really I think it more boiled down to a general social awkwardness typical of that age.

Middle school is by far the weirdest time of life. There are so many changes and difficulties for tweens to contend with. Of course, there is pressure to perform in academics, athletics, and activities. There is pressure to fit in with their peers, family strife, and the complexities of social media. That’s all true of high school and even college, but the middle school years bring unique challenges indicative of that age. Knowing the difficulties of middle schoolers gives us more empathy and strategy in helping them establish their place in the world. Here are the top 5 middle school problems tweens are facing.

1. The Awkward Phase

Their bodies feel out of control and so life is full of feelings of embarrassment. Then you have those who develop quicker or later than others, which breeds insecurity and instability. Early adolescents essentially still possess all of the self-absorption of a child, but without the same cuteness. It leaves the rest of the culture feeling annoyed by them, and the funny thing is that they are either unaware or don’t care. More than likely, they’re unaware. The don’t care phase is more related to high schoolers. In the end, though, the world of uncertainty surrounding them leads to perpetual feelings of angst.

2. Changing Friendships

The relationships they had in elementary school start to change. Many kids experience having less and less in common with their childhood friends. Without the social skills to deal with the complexity of changing relationships they tend to coldly disassociate with one another resulting in hurt feelings. For example, one child may be left wondering why his “best friend” no longer wants to hang out with him. So not only are their bodies unpredictable, but their social structure is as well.

3. Living In A Culture Of Meanness

Middle school is the apex of the mean environment. Unfortunately, only the political arena is worse. At least tweens have some kind of excuse. In their angst caused by the uncertainty around them, they are looking to reacquire some sense of control. Putting down someone else or even bullying gives them a sense of the power they are lacking. Since they have not developed the part of the brain that helps them evaluate cause and effect, they don’t have the ability to recognize the damage they are causing to the person they are destroying. So the meanness is fierce and relentless.

4. Alone In Groups

Due to the mean environment, middle school friendships are generally formed out of a need for protection. Their groups offer a safe haven, as long as the group is strong. A group is only as strong as its weakest person so each person has to posture strength no matter how they feel. Therefore, the trust and vulnerability levels are shallow. So even in a group of “friends”, most feel alone. For those unable to find a group the feeling of loneliness can be unbearable.

5. The Independence Vs. Dependence Paradox

In the tween phase, kids move towards independence from their parents. However, they still crave the security and support parents offer. It’s as if they are holding up a stop sign while motioning their parents to come in. Parents are left in a confusing situation. They have a kid who looks more adult like but still has the mental ability of a child. Ultimately, a tween wants their parents involved in their lives. They want their parents’ guidance but in their timing and on their terms.

If you are parenting a middle schooler, try to show them as much empathy as possible. They are in a difficult stage of life and need the security, stability, and support from you. Be a safe and available person.

Parenting Dangerously Close to Empty

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I love to live on the edge. At least that is what I tell my kids when they are all frustrated with me. I am that person. That person that drives until the “E” light in my car has been shining at me for about 30 miles. It doesn’t help that now my car tells me exactly how many miles I have to “E.”

I drive until there are no more miles left. It just has an asterisk on the screen. (I assumed when it said * that meant there was no more gas, but I’m happy to report that you can actually make it at least 5 miles with nothing but an asterisk.) I’ve learned that this drives my middle child crazy. He worries about his mama. He likes to know I’m not going to run out of gas, that I will not be stuck somewhere, that I am safe. One day, as I realized we were near “E” he snapped, “MOM! You are dangerously close to empty.”

A church recently asked me to speak on this very topic: You Can’t Lead On Empty. It was one of those Moses moments. I thought, “God, they have the wrong person to speak on this. I’m a single mom. I’m managing 3 kids. I try to take care of my house, my yard, the bills, the food, their schedules and mine. I’m working full time, plus some side jobs. They have made a mistake asking me.”

But, as I began to think and pray about this topic, I was reminded of an impactful talk I heard years ago on this very subject. Wayne Cordeiro had just written a book called, Leading on Empty and did a talk on it. I don’t save much, but I still had my notes, and the book. It was that good. So, I got busy reading and studying and prepping my talk. Every single principle spoke to me as a single mom and so I wanted to share them with you.


Answer the statement, I feel most alive when __________________. Now ask yourself these 3 questions:

  • Who am I with?
  • What am I doing?
  • Where am I doing this?

Our life, our very soul, has to be filled up in order to pour out. If I were to keep driving my car way past empty, my car would stall. If I only put 3 gallons of gas in each time I stopped to fill it, I wouldn’t make it very far. We are the same way. Are you putting in more than your giving out? The drain of life can’t be emptying you faster than you are filling yourself up.

And one way to be conscious of that is know what fills you and what drains you. Being a single mom can ironically fall into both categories. Sometimes parenting can be so filling, and other times it sucks the life out of me. Make a list of “Fill” and “Drain” items.

Have you ever noticed that when life gets busy, we tend to cut the things from the “Fill” column? We rarely cut from the “Drain” list. Why? I don’t know, but that is something I’ve worked hard at changing. My kids need me to have a tank that is more on the full side. They deserve that.


I think for most of us, if we were to define balance in life we might draw a seesaw with family on one side and work on the other. I used to think it was a constant balancing game. That is not really how life works. Our family has to be the fulcrum. Fulcrum is defined as the point on which a lever rests or is supported and on which it pivots. Our family is the center. If you lose a job, you start interviewing for another. If you lose your family, you lose everything.


We don’t mess up as parents because we are evil. It is often because we are exhausted. We have to look at our year, our month, our week and our day with rest in mind. Schedule your rest points first on your yearly calendar.
o Know when you will take a day off way in advance.
o Schedule your vacations at the beginning of the year.
o Use all of your vacation time. You’ve earned it and need it.
o Know when you will sleep. Often people say, “I can’t sleep in. I have to get up, get the kids up, etc…” Sleep in on the other side of the clock. Go to bed earlier. Your best sleep is from 11-3. The average person needs 7-8 hours. If you aren’t getting that, you aren’t the best you.


Who is your person that you can be totally honest with and who can be honest with you? If you’re a single parent, you don’t have a spouse to bounce things off of. You need to have a person. Who can you go to when the day has totally frustrated you? If you don’t have someone you can dump it all in front of, you will take it out on your family. Find someone who can take it, listen and then ground it–just like a lightening rod. Sometimes, you need to know when to ask for help. For a season this person may be a counselor. Recognize when your kids may need one too. Finding help when it’s needed is one of the greatest gifts I’ve given myself and my kids. (see my article on when to ask for help)


Listen to him, talk with him, obey him, worship him, pray to him. He has all of this. He’s got our mess. It doesn’t take him by surprise. He loves us more than we can ever fathom. He is in control and he wants the best for us. I really believe that. He doesn’t want us to live dangerously close to empty at any moment. He wants us to live rich full lives that honor him.

Ending the Homework Hassle

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Any time parents of teenagers or pre-teens are in a room together, the subject of homework and education seems to be on their lips. My experience is that most of the time parents worry more about their teen’s schoolwork than the teen worries about their schoolwork! I’m can’t promise to improve your teen’s grade point average. Actually, you may have to see your teen’s grade point average lowered for a while.

But then again, you will have to ask the question, “Is my primary purpose in parenting to help my child become a responsible adult or get good grades?” If you answered, “good grades,” I think your goal is too low.

A very good friend of mine is a university president. He told me that a mom called him to complain about a poor grade her son was getting in a business class. The president of the university wasn’t totally sure why she called him, but he did say he would check into it with the professor.

When he asked the professor about this student’s grade, the professor said the student wasn’t motivated and had written a terrible mid-term paper. When the president reported his finding to the mom, she was extremely angry and said, “That was not a bad paper, it was an A paper. I have an MBA from Stanford and I wrote that paper for my son!”

Here is the situation: for teenagers, education is their primary job, and school is their workplace. Rather than seeing education merely as a stepping-stone to future employment and earning a living (it is this, of course), it’s more important for your teenager’s progress toward adulthood that you view it as hisresponsibility during this season of his life. This responsibility should include striving to learn all he can, and doing the best he can do academically.

A parent should encourage, challenge, and guide when he does not live up to his academic potential, while remembering the responsibility is his, not yours.

Some parents mistakenly wrap their own self-image into how their teen performs academically. They cannot live with knowing their teen is doing poorly in school and it is not an option, because it reflects poorly on them. So, they do their child’s homework themselves.

For other parents, it’s a matter of family pride. What parent hasn’t attended a school science fair where it has been obvious that Mom or Dad made their child’s project?

For still others, it’s a matter of practicality, such as hoping that a scholarship will pay for their teen’s college years. I understand and sympathize with the many reasons parents have for bailing out their teens academically.

But the bottom line is that none of these helps the teen to become a responsible adult. Education ought rightly to be a monkey on your teenager’s back, not yours.

High school senior, Lindsey, and her parents were often locked in conflict over homework. An incredibly bright girl, Lindsey just didn’t apply herself. Her parents would nag, bribe, restrict, shame, and sometimes even do her homework themselves, all so she could keep her grades up and get a college scholarship. Finally, they took Lindsey’s monkey—her lack-of-discipline—off their backs and put it on hers.

They sat down with her and explained that they were partly at fault for all the tension in the home. They admitted that by her age, they should be nagging less. Starting then, they would release the homework decisions to her. She alone would experience the consequences of her academic decisions. It was a good talk, but that didn’t mean things changed overnight.

Lindsey continued to miss homework assignments, and her grades weren’t good enough to get into a four-year university. But two years at a community college did bring some maturity to her thinking, and she eventually became an excellent student, graduating with honors at UCLA.

How to Handle Homework

In a HomeWord parent podcast, John Rosemond spoke about “ending the homework hassle, and he introduced his ABCs for putting an end to family conflict over the issue. It’s one of the most freeing plans I’ve seen for dealing with homework, yet admittedly, it’s going to be a difficult one for parents who are addicted to control. In a strange twist of fate, it turns out that these ABCs found below are nothing more than the approach to homework many parents used fifty years ago.

  1. All by Myself. Teens ought to be responsible for doing their own homework. Find a private place for your teen to do homework and help set up an environment conducive to study. Then leave them alone. If they flunk the homework assignment, they chose the consequence. We have to teach them independence.
  2. Back Off. What may be the most difficult step for many parents is to back off. This means to refuse to give your kids your constant attention at homework time. Nagging really doesn’t work in the long run. Some would say it is like a constant dripping and a form of torture. John says about 80 percent of the time, “I need help” means they are looking for someone to fix a problem or bail them out. It’s possible to back off from helping the kids do the homework and turn your role more into supporting and encouraging. Even if your teen fails the homework assignment, they will learn an important life lesson from the experience. Don’t rob them of this learning experience.
  3. Call It Quits. Many parents set a time when kids must begin their homework and a time for them to quit. Set deadlines to finish the work. John strongly advises, “When it’s time to quit, it’s time to quit.” This gives your kids plenty of time to get it done, but it isn’t a fight every night that ends up creating a very poor family environment. This will give your kids a chance to learn to manage time more effectively.

Has homework been a hassle in your family? What has been successful or unsuccessful for you?

This is a excerpt from Jim Burns new book Understanding Your Teen. Used with permission.

EVENT RECAP – Parenting – It Might Be Less Than You Think with the Ashcrafts

Being Intentional as Parents

By Mike & Julie Ashcraft
With Madison Ashcraft Goslee & Michaela Ashcraft

It’s not about being a perfect parent!

Encounter.  Formation.  Expression.

The culture of the home is an incubator of character. The culture is what actually happens in your home. Ask your kids what your home’s culture is. Ask, listen and then start talking. Kids are made to be great. They need to know that you care about them. What are we doing to foster this?

 How did you see us integrate faith into our household?

            Michaela- I saw what you did in our home to cultivate your faith, and I learned how to have a relationship with Jesus.

            Madison – We behaved as normal teenagers, we weren’t “churchy”.  You simply modeled love in your relationship with me, and told me God loves me even more than you do.

A Pressure Free Home – a place to grow and feel safe

Our home is not perfect, but we strive to make it a place of immense enjoyment, safety and connection. One key component to creating a thriving culture in your home is to reduce pressure on your kids.


 Being a pastor’s kid, how have you dealt with pressure?

            Madison – You created for us a pressure free home. We were told that whatever the world sees in us doesn’t matter, only what God sees in us.

            Michaela – We didn’t have pressure to be anything that we weren’t created to be.

Being a Grace Filled Home

We resolve conflict by offering grace to each other. Talk through what happened and don’t wait to apologize.  Julie reminds us that the last thing a child hears when they walk out the door, they will remember. So meet kids where they are AND in that moment. We even restart and reset our day if necessary. We have the security in our home to be mad and then retry again  – the day is not ruined. Whatever is going on, just remember – it is just a season, it’s going to change

Words of wisdom from Julie

  1. Always iron your clothes
  2. Choose to wake up in a good mood
  3. Always celebrate, there’s always a reason for a party
  4. Love each other

Love Your Kids Uniquely

There is six years difference between our girls. They are unique and we have realized our parenting needs to be unique too.

Tell us about the driving contract.

            Madison – When I turned 16 I had to sign a two page legal-like contract. I felt like they didn’t trust me.  But we talked about how I felt, and then went over each item.  I could express my feelings and they showed me why they care.

            Michaela – I didn’t have a driving contract J But, we do talk about my driving privileges and I know that you always want me to be safe and what is best for me.  And we can compromise and work it out.


Boys & Other Things

We tell them it isn’t a right to privacy, we will respect your privacy. We have rules and one of those rules is the girls cell phones are ours too. We check their phones often and anything on their phones we will look at. We also had the rule that they could not date until they were 16.

How did you feel about these rules?

            Madison – I wasn’t happy about them, but I was okay with them.  I didn’t feel like I had anything to hide because you were always available and willing to talk. I could come to you about anything because you had created a safe environment and we trusted you. If it was on my phone, you knew about it already.  And as far as dating, you                               were always willing to sit down and talk about the rules and expectations so we came to a level of trust.

            Michaela – We could always talk about the rules. I felt heard, and always listened to. We had conversations about dating and what dating would look like, so I had understood all our expectations. 

Don’t Freak Out, Find Out

Awkward conversations… you have to have them! They are weird and imperative. Kids want a place to process, so give them that space. Another key component to creating a thriving culture in your home is to ask your kids questions and talk with them. We want to preserve their innocence. If we don’t do this, no one else will.

Know each other

You have to get to know your kids, and they have to get to know you.  Make sure the expression on your face matches theirs. If they are excited about something, join with their excitement. If they are hurting, join with their hurting. Don’t confuse vision (the hope of what could be) with expectation (what is required).  We tell them to do your best verses be the best. And make sure they are contributing to the family and they understand what their contribution means.

Everybody wants strategies to make kids behave the way we want them to behave – this is foolish.  What we need in our homes is a culture to thrive!


Potential Sermon Series to Review:

  1. Hot Heads
  2. Freak Out
  3. Parents Just Don’t Understand






6 Meaningful Ways to Celebrate Christmas

** The following article was copied from

“Charlie Brown, you’re the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem.” – Linus

How many of us have felt like Charlie Brown about Christmas? Creator Charles Schultz was onto something long before it became the reality it is today. The birth of Jesus has become more about greed, consumerism, and a jolly fat man in red. Charlie’s sister, Sally, sums it up pretty nicely when she demands, “All I want is what I have coming to me…all I want is my fair share!” Christmas has turned into an entitlement.

The birth of Jesus represents the hope of mankind. “Born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord,” the Angel of the Lord proclaimed. This purpose of this article is not to say it is wrong to celebrate Christmas in the cultural way we do, but don’t miss the true meaning. To help with how to go about doing that, here are 6 meaningful ways to celebrate Christmas:

1. Advent Countdown

Ordinarily, we may give our children a small gift in the 24 days of December leading up to Christmas Day or perhaps small candies. You may want to craft an advent countdown of scripture verses that explain to the kids who Christ is and what he represents such as John 3:16. However, a little candy will probably go over well too.

2. Christ in the Center of the Family

The birth of Christ is our pathway to unification with the Creator. Without him, we are separated from God. This Christmas season begin the process of putting Christ in the center of your family or work to strengthen that reality. One way to do this is to hold a family bible discussion each day during the season. Pick a part of the Christmas story and create a dialogue with your children.  You may want to read to them about the journey of Joseph and Mary on the way to Bethlehem. Discuss how our own lives parallel that rocky and dangerous trek but, with the protection and  blessing of God in our lives, we will successfully fulfill our purpose.

3. Service Based on Scripture

In his words and actions, Jesus stressed over and over the importance of the body to serve. John 13:12-14 – “When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” Go serve people.

4. Silent Worship at the Altar

Before the hustle and bustle of Christmas Eve service hits your church, ask for permission. Perhaps create a special night for a silent altar worship during the week before Christmas Day. Take with you a single candle to light, and kneel before God in prayer and humbleness. Give each member of your family their own candle and keep it completely silent.

5. Reconcile our Relationships

God came to us in human form to reconcile our relationship with him. His birth, death, and resurrection represent this reconciliation in the person of Jesus Christ. Consider doing the same in your own relationships this Christmas season. Reconcile with and forgive those that have hurt you and, for those that you have hurt, seek forgiveness by sincere apology. Nothing could be more Christ-like at Christmas.

6. Family Prayer

This is the easiest and most purposeful way to celebrate Christmas this year. Lead your family in prayer every night and end with the Lord’s Prayer as we were taught to do by Christ. Have your children recite it with you until they know it. Merry Christmas!

© 2014 All Pro Dad. All Rights Reserved. Family First, All Pro Dad, iMOM, and Family Minute with Mark Merrill are registered trademarks.

Christmas and the G-Word

** The following article was copied from

Hi. My name is Carey, and I’m greedy. (This is the point where you all say, “Hi Carey.”)

Gosh, I hate to say it. I mean no one goes around and says they’re greedy, right? We might think otherpeople are greedy (it’s just so easy to spot the sins of others, even from a distance), but it’s so difficult to see in ourselves.

But read this definition of greedy and tell me if at least a piece of it doesn’t own you—or your kids.

Greed is an excessive desire to acquire or possess more than what one needs or deserves, especially with respect to material wealth.

What makes this time of year difficult for greedy people is that we’re going to add to the pile of what we have that we arguably don’t need. There are things I want that I don’t need. And most of us are actually going to receive things that not only do we not need, but we do not want. In the incredibly affluent culture of North America, the problem of greed runs deep.

There’s a fine line we tread as parents in helping our kids celebrate Christmas. I still remember the almost delirious excitement I had as a child in being able to open gifts at Christmas. Let’s face it, what kid doesn’t love to get gifts at Christmas?

So, how do you make sure, as a parent, that you don’t inadvertently fuel greed in your family this Christmas?

I suppose there are a few options:

  • Don’t give presents.
  • Hand out coal.
  • Read from Deuteronomy and pretend its February.

But those are almost certain recipes to kill some of the joy that comes with Christmas.

In my experience, the very best antidote to greed I’ve discovered is generosity. The more I give, the deeper I cut into the greed that lives inside of me.

The more I am willing to take giving to a sacrificial level (to the point where we are not doing things as a family because we are giving income away), the more I am reminded that this life is not about me or about my wants and desire. By far, generous giving is the best antidote to the greed that lives inside of me.

As Christmas approaches, ask yourself this question: what am I doing to stifle greed in my family this Christmas? Maybe you could:

  • Sponsor a family in need.
  • Serve in a local mission over the holidays.
  • Talk to your kids about how you as a family have decided to give first, save second, and live on the rest.
  • Make sure giving is part of your full year—your weekly practice—rather than just a seasonal pursuit.
  • Work with your kids to incorporate giving as part of their regular rhythm.

All I know is this: I’m greedy. And the best way I know to tackle that in my life is to give away a noticeable portion of the things that God has given me.

What helps you wrestle down greed in your life and in your family?

Three Ways to Make Sure You Don’t Miss Christmas

** The following was copied from

Christmas is about 7 minutes long when you have kids.

One minute it’s Thanksgiving and the next you’re putting away your ornaments.

Nothing moves as fast as the holidays and it’s no wonder that so many people find this time of year stressful. How do you make sure you make the most of your Christmas?

Here are three simple ways.


I’m terrible at being still. On Saturdays, I often ask my wife, “What are we doing today?” She’ll look up from a book or knitting and say, “This, this is what we’re doing. The kids are playing. You’ve built a fire. This is enough.” Maybe you over stuff your calendar like me, especially during Christmas. Well this year, do one less thing. Don’t try to fit it all in. Look at your list of activities and remove one. Leave some room around the edges of your calendar and give the rest of what you’ll do some breathing room.


Your phone isn’t just a phone, it’s also an escape pod. Whenever you want, it offers you the chance to mentally disappear from a moment. Part of the reason we miss the holidays is that we’re stuck on our devices. This year, be deliberate about taking a break. Leave it in a drawer. Put it back in your bedroom during a dinner party. Throw it in the glove compartment when you drive to grandma’s house. Something that small can make a big difference.


Sometimes, we speed through the holidays because we don’t have any traditions. A good tradition is like a speed bump. It slows you down and reminds you of years gone by. It pauses you and quiets the moment. It doesn’t have to be massive. One of ours is that we let our kids get up early on Christmas morning, but they have to wait at the top of the stairs before they come down. They think it’s torture but also secretly love the anticipation. That’s our tradition. What new one can you start?

 It will be January before you know it. The new year will be here and you’ll have a million things to do. Until then though, slow down. Laugh more. Take a deep breath. Relax a little bit.

God didn’t give us Christmas to make us crazy.

Don’t Miss The True Story of Christmas

** The following article was copied from

There are certain times in the year that just go by faster than others.
Christmas is one of them.
There is so much going on from the time we clean up the turkey to when we take down the tree that if we’re not intentional, the big day can come and go and we will have missed the true story of Christmas.

How is that possible? How can a person be surrounded by Christmas and yet miss Christmas? I’m not exactly sure, but I managed to pull it off several years ago. Yes, there was a year when I honestly could not remember if I had stopped long enough to talk with my kids about the true story of Christmas.

My three kids were preschool and young elementary age at the time and my husband and I had our hands full working in a church plant. It really is a blur as I remember back to those days.

I organized the school Christmas party.
Bought the gifts.
Wrapped the gifts.
Watched the movies.
Cleaned the house.
Decorated the house.
Volunteered at church.
Donated the toys.
Hung the stockings.
Cooked the ham.
Baked the cookies.
Played the music.

And before I knew it, it was December 26th and time to take it all down.

When I realized what I had done—or in this case what I had not done— my heart was broken. I had let all the things of Christmas keep me from the most important part of Christmas—the only part that actually matters—Jesus.

Jesus is the true story of Christmas, and I had missed the opportunity of sharing Him with the ones I love most.

Before I put another decoration in a box, I grabbed our wooden nativity set and my Bible and asked my three kids to sit with me around our coffee table. Then I used the nativity figures to tell them the true story of Christmas.

Sure, it was days after Christmas, all of us in our pajamas with messy hair and unbrushed teeth, but for those sweet moments, we paused to reflect on God’s perfect gift to us. It was not a new story to them, but one worthy of repeating over and over until it is hidden deep in their hearts.

Thanks to that Christmas, I began to tap into a few traditions that would help me not miss what is most important, no matter how busy things get. Here are a few ideas that you might also want to consider to keep the real Christmas story alive this season:


I have one child who really connected with a live nativity when she was younger so we made it a tradition to go to a local Christmas light show that ends with a live nativity. We still visit and imagine what that night was like as we watch.


Part of our family Christmas tradition now is to make a birthday cake for Jesus on Christmas Eve. It’s just a box cake mix, but decorating it, lighting a candle, and singing Happy Birthday to Jesus helps us remember who we are celebrating.


I have an assortment of Christmas books that focus on the true story of Christmas that I put out as part of my décor. Just having them out all season makes them more accessible for people to pick up and read. These are a few of my favorites:

B Is for Bethlehem: A Christmas Alphabet by Isabel Wilner (preschool and up)
Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas by Ann VosKamp (great for a family of all ages)
The Christmas Story Board Book by Autumn Ward (toddlers and preschoolers)

And of course there’s the Bible. There’s just something special about opening the Bible and reading the Christmas story together. It can be a children’s Bible with pictures or a Bible laid open to the side while you use nativity figures to act out the story like I did.


There are many different versions of countdown-to-Christmas calendars. You can make your own, buy one, or find one online. We’ve created a free one that you can download below to help you share the story of God’s perfect gift: Each day leading up to Christmas, you can read a small portion of the Christmas story and do an activity together that reflects God’s generosity.

There are so many great ways to share the true story of Christmas with both older and younger kids. What’s one way you will focus on telling it this year?