In the catechism class, the teachers are walking the children through the Story of Jesus’s Family, using illustrations of the stories of Jesus’s ancestors that give attention to the shadows that point toward the coming Messiah.
Do you realize that that is what makes retelling the account of the birth of Christ so thrilling, so edifying and worthwhile? We know the ending, but because we also know how far back in history the beginning was decreed, and we track the promises through the lives of the Old Covenant people and prophets and see how each shadow reveals more and more about the mystery of the coming Messiah, we can still imagine the suspense and the anticipation of the Advent of the Savior of the World. The result: the Lord calls us to join with Him and the rest of the Body to reflect upon and savor the eternal work of God in bringing the Gift of the Ages to His people. And you’re right, it’s not just this season – we can do this all year ‘round!
Jesus Family Tree
The foundation of the lesson is found in Isaiah 11: 1-3:
A Shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him – the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord – and He will delight in the fear of the Lord.
The Jesus Family Tree mounted in the classroom is a four-branched, 2-dimensional brown tree. As the redemptive HIStory is recounted, brightly colored and illustrated ornaments get hung on the branches, depicting episodes in the Old Testament where the Promise of a Savior is foretold. Wouldn’t it be a delight to share this anticipation and delight with your children during these next few weeks? Well, thanks to the Child Ministry International publishers, we can do that. A guide for parents to incorporate the readings and lessons at home includes cut-outs of the very same ornaments. All that’s needed to complete the activity is a tree, which could be formed from construction paper or brown paper bags, drawn on a whiteboard, or even fashioned from a large branch from nature!
Read together the passages from the Bible on the Advent Readings Schedule (on the Sunday School page) and discuss what the promises or shadows are that are represented by the symbol, giving special attention to any words that reference our Lord. Begin with the symbol of the scroll with the words from Isaiah, placing that ornament at the base of the “tree”.
Tracking the days leading up to Christmas is an activity many families enjoy doing, sometimes using Advent calendars or Jesse Trees, and if this a tradition your family already enjoys and grows from, then you know what a blessing it can be to take some time each day to center on Christ, and I hope it enriches your Advent season this year with the wonder and majesty of God’s incarnation and the satisfaction of the Hope of the Ages.
If you haven’t tried to incorporate this activity into your routine until now (believe me, I understand the busy schedules, the problem with consistency), I urge you to consider it. What a perfect opportunity to fulfill the Lord’s call to parents to talk of the truths and commandments to your children “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
Child Ministry International’s Advent Reading Schedule (at use in the 3RG catechism class)
Other Advent activities you may be interested in: Jesse Tree (website link not an endorsement, it simply contains a good list of links to printables and instructions) and The Messiah Vine (recommended by Jill Nelson at Children Desiring God)
A snippet of a song kept going through my head the other day.
“Let your conversation be acceptable in the sight of the Lord.”
It goes way back into my youth group days (waaaayyy back), and I can only remember part of it. I tried to Google the line for the rest of it, and couldn’t find any hits, but I did hit on some Scripture verses it aligns closely, but not exactly, with.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)
That sent me on another search for an article that I wrote several years ago for Tabletalk magazine where I examined the concept of gospel conversation, which was itself laid out in a series of sermons by Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs, compiled into a book by the same name.* Burroughs, in his winsome and dialectic style, addressed not simply conversation as speech, but also, as only a thorough Puritan could do, all the ways in which Christians display the gospel in the give and take of life – in the church, in the marketplace, in the home, etc.. We speechlessly talk up what we believe in every sphere by our decisions, actions and reactions, stewardship, friendships, good works, childrearing, buying and selling, love lives, sex lives, because we are, in a way, conversing in all these circumstances. The full compendium of the doctrines of grace can be at the forefront of those spoken and unspoken conversations if we make a point of it.
All of these musings and memories have a thread running through them, and that is that our gospel conversation, the words of our mouth, must be rooted in meditations of the heart, or else they are nothing more than flat, shiny distractions from the day to day living we experience. Christmas is coming, and we can all tell the difference between the cheap, drossy décor we can pick up at the Dollar Store and that which reflects the beauty of quality materials, a slow and steady refining fire, and the skill and creativity of the craftsman. I think the same is true with our words and whether they are formed from hearts of dross or hearts of true gold.
I faced dross earlier this week and there was much more of it in my heart than I expected to find. A sudden increase in lumbar pain landed me at the surgical center on Tuesday for my first ever steroid injection. Blessed with a high pain threshold, I’ve been through medical events that challenged those thresholds: a dislocated knee that had to be popped back into place, a med-free delivery, a spinal injection for another delivery, so this should not have been an unsettling experience, right?
Except, it was, and I found myself with only rote words of comfort on my lips. Somewhere between the forging of joyful meditation and trudging through the pain, I had forgotten the higher truth behind that casually spoken phrase, “Blessed with…” and had settled into a dependency upon the speech part of gospel conversation to get me through the trials rather than the supernatural grace that leads to glory. When the affliction came, the words were not enough. In fact, I shuddered, lying there on the exam table, as I realized that my words sounded like a mantra!
Okay, okay, I thought to myself. This isn’t working. Muster up the feelings, recall the truths, glory in the hope.
Thankfully, the Lord in His goodness and mercy saw me through.
Philippians 1:27, the text of Burroughs’ messages, says: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
I can’t say my manner was worthy of the gospel of Christ. It took me almost a whole day before I remembered that an abundance of good things had been mine over the past 24 hours: a doctor with a sure hand, a nurse who seemed to sense my soul distress and rested a hand on mine, a son who was willing to drive me there and wait for two hours, the relief from the injection. I didn’t deserve any of it, and yet the Lord provided. John Piper applies his gentle icepick to thanks-oriented distinctions in his Desiring God blog post this week:
Authentic heart-feelings are not in our control. We can’t make ourselves feel thankfulness. …Thankfeelings are a work of grace. Therefore, as fallen sinners whose hearts are often dull, we should regularly pray for God to overcome our sinful hardness, and cause us to see his goodness and feel thankful. (Psalm 51:10-12) [John Piper,”Thanksgiving, Thanksfeeling and the Glory of God”]
Cultivating a language of thankfulness begins with more than rehearsed self-talk. When the soul-ground is turned over in recognition that all good things come from God, when showers of grace quench my thirsty, arid heart-soil so that seedlings flower into authentic gratitude, then my lips and my heart overflow with thanksgiving! Yes, this adversity is worth it for the sake of His glory!
So the sacrifice of thanksgiving that glorifies God is the offering of contrite and broken-hearted thankfulness for undeserved mercies. This makes God looks glorious – it glorifies him. [Piper]
I lost an opportunity to glorify God in the conversation of getting an injection in my back. May my manner of life be more worthy of the gospel of Christ in what I do tomorrow and the day after. May the Lord do that daily work of grace in me to overcome my sinful hard-heartedness. May my meditations on the adversity – and the words on my lips about it – be acceptable in your sight, O Lord!
*That article is now available in digital form only through Logos Bible Software.
Don’t miss one of the most articulate pieces written this year on the bizarre aversion to motherhood and childrearing that is sweeping our elite institutions.
at The Federalist.
There are too many outstanding passages to quote them all here, but I’ll try to pick out the best:
Last week Deadspin ran six sentences and a picture under the headline “Philip Rivers Is An Intense Weirdo.”
The final two sentences about the San Diego Charger quarterback were blunt:
And he’s also about to have his seventh kid. There are going to be eight people with Rivers DNA running around this world.
Ah yes. How “intensely weird” it is for an NFL player to be having his seventh kid. Except that it isn’t weird at all for an NFL player to have his seventh kid. It’s only weird for an NFL player to have seven kids with his one wife.
And this one:
There is much more than a whiff of the misogyny in denigrating mothers of multiple children as brainless, in stating that mothers who are homemakers are inferior to those who “earn” their living, or in attacking women for prioritizing fertility above independence. It’s not just that nobody on planet earth could be truly independent — which is to say completely self-reliant or free of any other human support. It’s not just that we each depended on others from the moment of our conception to birth, but all of society is comprised of individuals who work with each other and depend on each other throughout their lives. Or healthy societies are, at least. It may be impolitic to suggest that men and women are in any way different, science be damned, but many women have a particular specialty in cultivating relationships and family. To denigrate women who acknowledge and accept this as a good thing rather than fight against it is not exactly life-affirming.
(My post first appeared at the Three Rivers Grace blog on 10/14/2013.)
I hope you’ll forgive me for drawing another parallel between the lessons learned this week – this time in the Bible story illustration for our children’s catechism class – and Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. There are so many exciting accounts in both the Bible and this marvelous tale that it’s no wonder the one makes me think of the other. But the semblance doesn’t end with the similarity in exciting stories.
For many years, I wrongly connected the key in Christian’s pocket to promises that the Lord would get me out of trouble. But that’s not what the beautiful consolation of this scene is about. There is no promise to be kept free of trouble in this life. The key here is the same one Elijah relied upon when he found himself watching the Brook Cherith dry up and feeling the armies of Ahab breathing down his neck: not escape from trouble, but confidence in a God who keeps His promises. What made Elijah one of the “good” guys spoken of in Proverbs 15 is not that he was one of those saved from trouble, but one of those the Lord saved through faith – belief that God would do as He said. The Lord told Elijah, “Arise, go… I have commanded.” When Elijah arose and went, he saw what the Lord had arranged and, you might say, patted that little Key in his pocket.
Most people know of the new trend on social websites that starts a sentence with "that moment when". Usually, people use it to highlight an awkward situation, a hilarious incident, a "what in the world" reaction to another human's lack of common sense, etc.
Well. Yesterday, I was sitting around reading Psalm 139 and thought to myself:
That moment when you realize God knew you before you were conceived.