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Hungry, Hungry Thank You’s

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. We want to offer you a game to be more intentional with your family’s faith this holiday season. Start with this simple game designed to help younger children articulate giving thanks. This can be done during any mealtime the whole family is present.

  1. Gather the family together before sitting down for the meal to enjoy a game designed to emphasize why we give thanks.
  2. If you own the game “Hungry, Hungry Hippos,” get it ready. If not, create your own version by placing about 20–30 marbles on a large paper plate or plastic tray. Give each player a spoon with which they will pick up the marbles.
  3. As the children anticipate starting the game, pause and invite the oldest child to read I Thessalonians 5:16–18: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
  4. Afterwards, ask the following questions:
    What is God’s will for us? (to give thanks)
    Why do we give thanks? (to experience joy)
  5. Tell the children that one of the most important ways we fill our hunger for joy is to give thanks for the blessings God has given.
  6. Now play several rounds of “Hungry, Hungry Hippo” or “Marbles and Spoons” where the children try to gobble or pick up as many as they can. The winner is the person who has the most marbles at the end of the round.
  7. Now, turn each child into a real “winner” by inviting them to share one thing for which they are thankful for each marble they retrieved. Emphasize that the more thanks we give the more our “joy tanks” fill up! Play as many rounds as you can until the meal is ready.
  8. Memorize together: “Giving Thanks—Fills Our Joy Tanks!”
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Pumpkin Parable – A Halloween Family Devotional

Every year my wife buys pumpkins to decorate our front porch. Our girls always ask if we can carve the pumpkins but it seems like we never have time. The pumpkins usually get tossed in the trash sometime after Thanksgiving, never realizing their full potential.

This year we vowed to actually carve one, as our six year old insisted that she had never experienced a good ole fashion pumpkin carving. Last night we finally found the time and we sat out on our back porch and carved a pumpkin as a family. We enjoyed a fun evening filled with messy pumpkin insides, laughter, and a finished Jack-O-Lantern for our family to enjoy.

We also wanted to take the opportunity and use this time to teach our girls about God. Here is a great devotional that you can do with your family while turning that lonely little pumpkin sitting on your porch into something your family will be proud of. I hope you enjoy this devotional as much as our family did. More than anything, I hope you enjoy spending time with one another and being intentional about passing along your faith to your children!

Advance Preparation

Make sure you have the following on hand.
A large pumpkin and carving utensils
A small candle and matches
A Bible

Follow these steps for a great experience

1. Conduct a typical pumpkin carving activity, but use each step as part of the overall “pumpkin parable” by adding Bible reading and questions.

2. First, have the children help with the clean out portion of the carving – reaching their hand into the open pumpkin to pull out seeds and other “gunk” that will feel yucky to their hands.

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3. Pause to read Matthew 23:25-28 and ask the children how the inside “gunk” is like our sin (yucky, smelly, etc.).

4. Once you have cleaned out the pumpkin, read Revelation 3:20 together and explain that confessing our sins enables God to take away the “yuck” of our sinful hearts.

5. Now draw and carve a happy face (not a scary face) on the pumpkin. Then read 2 Corinthians 5:17 and/or Ephesians 2:10 and explain that Jesus wants to make us into a “new creation” – just as the pumpkin filled with yuck became a jack-o-lantern with a joy-filled face.

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6. Now read Matthew 5:14-16 while lighting and inserting a candle into the jack-o-lantern and turn down the lights to show how God wants to use us to shine His light, even on what is normally a dark and scary night.

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The Day Death Died – A Good Friday Family Devo

My oldest daughter is excited about missing school on Good Friday. In the car on the way to school she asked. “What is Good Friday?” I took the opportunity to briefly explain the significance of Good Friday and what it means for us as Christians, but I wasn’t satisfied with my short explanation. So I decided to do it right and plan a special Good Friday family devotional to further explain to both my children. Please feel free to take what I have prepared here and share it with your children.

Overview:

The action of Jesus dying on the cross is very complex. Sometimes I feel it is too complex for us humans (or at least myself) to fully understand everything that is going on at the cross. Instead of trying to explain it all in this family devotional—and thus lose my children in the process—I decided to focus on Jesus’ defeat of evil, powers and authorities (Colossians 2:15).

Most of us, including Jesus’ disciples, believe the way to defeat your enemies is to kill them before they can kill you. This is traditionally how battles are won. Jesus, however, didn’t do it that way. He taught the opposite telling us to love our enemies and pray for them. Jesus put this into action on the cross and submitted himself to death at the hands of his enemies. At the time, Jesus disciples (who thought a lot like we do) saw this as His, and their, own defeat. It was so backward to what they knew and understood that they couldn’t see until later how it was actually the defeat of evil and death itself.

Activity:

To explain this to your children lead them through this simple activity. Have everyone in your family take turns trying to trace the shape of a cross while only looking in a mirror. Place a picture of a cross on a table in front of a mirror. Ask one member of your family to trace the picture, while another member holds a folder above their hands so they can’t peek.

Supplies you will need:

  • A Mirror (We used a small decorative mirror that we propped up on our kitchen table. You can probably use your bathroom mirror and trace on top the bathroom counter.)
  • Markers
  • A folder or piece of cardboard about the size of a sheet of paper.
  • A print out of a cross Download one here
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    It is very difficult to trace the shape of the cross while only looking in the mirror. I asked both my girls to try while the other held the folder above their work. As they traced I heard my daughters saying things like “Am I going up or down?” and “I’m trying to think because the mirror is in reverse.” After they traced the cross in the mirror I gave them a different colored marker and asked them to trace the same cross without the folder blocking their view.

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    Lesson:

    After both my children had tried their best I began to explain Jesus’ actions on the cross.

    I Asked:

    What was hard about tracing the cross in the mirror?

    Which felt more natural, looking in the mirror, or looking directly at the paper?

    How do you win a battle against an enemy army?

    I then explained, the best I could, how what Jesus did on the cross was a lot like tracing in the mirror. It is backward from the way we think it should be. Typically battles are won by outlasting, or surviving longer than the enemy. If you want to win you have to kill them before they kill you. Jesus did it backwards, instead of killing his enemy, he allowed them to kill him first. The only difference is Jesus didn’t stay dead.

    I then asked:

    How hard do you think it would be to defeat an enemy that won’t stay dead?

    I explained that is how Jesus “disarmed” all the power in the world. Bad guys only have power over people because they can threaten to hurt or kill them. Through the cross and resurrection, Jesus took away their greatest weapon—the ability to kill. He even promised his followers would one day be resurrected just as he has been (1 Corinthians 15:12–32). This was the ultimate victory. How can you defeat an army that won’t stay dead?

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Remembering – Family Communion Devotional

The other day my wife and I were sorting through old family photos. We were mostly flipping though, hardly acknowledging any one photo. Everyone once in a while one or two photos would catch our eye demanding more attention. We would see a picture of our children many years younger, or the emotion of a major life event perfectly captured in an image, and we would stop. Held captive by something so powerful it made everything else fade to the background. In those moments, holding those pictures, we would do something very holy and sacred. We would remember.

C.S. Lewis has said “A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered.” Remembering is more than just recalling. Remembering is an emotional event joyous and sad all at the same time. Remembering does something to the people who partake in it, and can even affect those who were not present at the original moment. This is most evident when you get around a bunch of friends and begin remembering together. Telling stories laughing, crying… remembering.

The night Jesus was betrayed he sat down to engage in this holy and sacred event with his closest friends. He and his disciples went into the upper room to celebrate Passover. For Jesus and his disciples it was more than just a meal and certainly more than a ritual. It was the equivalent to a box of old photos. Everything they ate and drank had memories associated with it. The Passover Feast was specifically designed by God to help the Israelites remember everything He had done for the them in the Exodus. It pointed back but, it also pointed forward to a time when God would deliver his people again from a far greater slave master—sin itself.

Activity

To illustrate this to your children and teenagers take them through a miniature Lord’s Supper. Purchase some grape juice and Matzo crackers from your local grocery store (both should be easy to find during the Passover season).

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Explain:

Jesus and his disciples ate and drank something very similar. Everything they ate and drank had meaning and helped them remember something specific about what God had done.

The Bread:

Ask your children if they notice anything different about the Matzo? How is it different from other bread we eat?

Explain how the Matzo is made without yeast. God commanded the Israelites to make bread without yeast because they were in a hurry. That night God would free them from slavery in Egypt and there was no time to allow traditional bread to rise. It was also symbolic. It was the last meal they would eat as slaves, and the first they would eat as free people.

As Jesus sat down with his disciples he broke the bread (Matzo), which signaled the beginning of the Passover celebration. He told his disciples, “This is my body that is broken for you.” Just like the Israelites, the breaking of Jesus’ body on the cross signaled the freedom from slavery to sin for all who believe.

In addition, the bread would have reminded the disciples of how God provided food for them in the wilderness, sending manna from heaven. The manna in the wilderness was more than just another meal. It was life saving—keeping the Israelites alive in the wilderness. God has provided for us in the same way by sending his Son from heaven to earth. Jesus even called himself the bread from heaven, linking himself to the manna. Just like the manna, Jesus saves our life and keeps us alive

The Cup:

Later in the Passover service Jesus took a cup of wine and blessed it. It was customary to pour out small amounts of wine on a plate remembering the 10 plagues. The plagues were a demonstration of God’s unparalleled power over all things. The disciples would have poured out a small amount of wine 10 times, remembering each of the 10 plagues. Jesus took that same cup of wine and said, “This is my blood that is poured out for many.” With this statement the cup was taking on a similar, yet new, meaning. God was, once again, showing his unparalleled power—this time over sin and death. It was the pouring out of Christ’s blood that ultimately defeated death and freed from the power of sin all who believe.

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Remembering:

The Passover meal was a meal designed for remembering. As Jesus and his disciples were remembering God’s saving actions from the Exodus, Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” That night Judas would betray Jesus, setting in motion the new Exodus, God’s freeing of his people bound in slavery to sin.

Have your children eat the bread and drink the cup, and as they do ask them to remember the things God has done and is still doing for them. Encourage them to remember these things every time they take communion or see the bread and cup passed at church.

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Love Your Enemy – Family Activity and Devotional

Take a few minutes at breakfast, dinner or bedtime to focus the family on one of the key principles from the final week of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

Read Matthew 22:47-54

 

While Jesus was still speaking, a crowd came up. They were led by Judas, one of the twelve apostles. He went over to Jesus and greeted him with a kiss. Jesus asked Judas, “Are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” When Jesus’ disciples saw what was about to happen, they asked, “Lord, should we attack them with a sword?” One of the disciples even struck at the high priest’s servant with his sword and cut off the servant’s right ear. “Enough of that!” Jesus said. Then he touched the servant’s ear and healed it.

Jesus spoke to the chief priests, the temple police, and the leaders who had come to arrest him. He said, “Why do you come out with swords and clubs and treat me like a criminal? I was with you every day in the temple, and you didn’t arrest me. But this is your time, and darkness is in control.” Jesus was arrested and led away to the house of the high priest, while Peter followed at a distance.

Jesus had every right to oppose His own arrest. He had done nothing wrong. On the contrary, He had healed the sick, raised the dead, loved the unlovable, and ushered in the kingdom of heaven. Those are very good things. When the disciple attacks the high priest’s servant we think he is acting completely normal for the circumstances. Jesus is the one who acts very abnormally by first healing the servant and then succumbing to the unlawful arrest. Even when Jesus is being treated wrongfully He continues to love, heal, and act in obedience with God’s will.

Discuss

Have you ever wanted to lash out at someone who was treating you wrongfully?

Have you ever followed through with your feelings?

Many times we believe that if we are wronged, we have the “right” to wrong that person back. That is not the way Jesus acted, however. He, in fact, acted in the exact opposite way that we would expect.

Why is it so hard for us to “be Jesus” to someone who has treated us badly?

Activity

Take this challenge as we continue to think about Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem, and the example that He sets for us by His actions. Think of someone who has treated you wrongly in the past days, weeks, or even months. Write their name on a piece of paper, along with the injury you suffered at their hands (“he lied to me about_________”, or “she said ___________ and that hurt me”, etc.). If you are doing this as a family or with some other Christians, share your hurts if you can. You don’t have to share because some hurts are just between you and God, but sharing helps you cleanse your heart of the hurt.

When you have done this, pray that God will allow you to forgive this person, cleanse your heart of resentment, and be able to move beyond the hurt.

Pray

God my Father, I have been hurt by , and I want to forgive. Please cleanse me of resentment, anger, and hate. Create in me a new heart. Help me to remember that is your child, and I should forgive like You do. Ease my pain. Help me to remember not to hurt others as I have been hurt. Thank You, Father, for forgiving me. Help me to be more like You.

Note: This has nothing to do with what the person did. It is all about your attitude and heart. You cannot change what happened. You cannot change the other person’s heart, actions, or attitude. You can only change yourself with God’s help.

Activity

After you have written this on the paper and prayed for this person, burn the paper. Put it in a safe container (preferably outside) and light it with a match. As the paper burns, imagine that hurt and resentment in your life burning with it. When the paper burns, it is gone forever. Ask God to take your resentment and hurt and anger out of your heart forever.

Note: If you are uncomfortable with burning, tear the paper into tiny pieces and flush it down the toilet. Don’t just throw it in the trash where it will remain as a reminder of your hurt. Get rid of it forever. (Don’t litter, however.)

Jesus did not stand up to, fight back against, or resist the evil that overcame the crowd in the garden. He healed those that would see Him killed. It is a difficult thing to be more like Jesus, yet God calls us to a life of peace and love even for our enemies.

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Praying for Unity – Family Activity and Devotional

Take a few minutes at breakfast, dinner or bedtime to focus the family on one of the key events from the final week of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

OVERVIEW

Jesus actually prayed for those of us who would believe in Him in the future. He asked His father to help us show unity by loving each other.

READ

John 17:20–23

I’m not praying only for them but also for those who believe in me because of their word. I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. I pray that they also will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. I’ve given them the glory that you gave me so that they can be one just as we are one. I’m in them and you are in me so that they will be made perfectly one. Then the world will know that you sent me and that you have loved them just as you loved me. (John 17:20–23 CEB)

ACTIVITY

Have each member of your family put the tips of both of their index fingers under the hula hoop (one finger tip if group is large). Lower the hoop to the floor without anyone’s finger tip breaking contact. All finger tips MUST be in contact with the hoop at all times. If anyone’s finger tip breaks contact, start over.

Hula Hoop Finger Lift
All you will need for this family activity is a hula hoop.

DISCUSS

What did it take to lower the hula hoop to the floor together without anyone breaking contact? (Possible answers: everyone working together, communication, listening, focusing on others, being unselfish, loving each other)
How can your family show love to each other in a way that pictures God’s love?
What does showing unity through love teach others about the nature of God?
(Couples: Read Ephesians 5:31–33 to reinforce how marriage is intended to be a picture of the relationship between Christ and His bride, the Church.)

PRAY

“Lord Jesus, help our family to reflect the kind of selfless love you prayed for us. May the world believe in you because of the love they see in us. Amen.”

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Welcome Peace – Palm Sunday Family Discussion

To celebrate Palm Sunday read through these thoughts below and then discuss the questions at the end with your Children.

Cat Stevens recorded these very famous words in 1971:

I’ve been happy lately
Thinking about the good things to come
And I believe it could be
Something good has begun
Oh, I’ve been smiling lately
Dreaming about the world as one
And I believe it could be
Someday it’s going to come
‘Cause out on the edge of darkness
There rides a peace train
Peace train take this country
Come take me home again

This song, “Peace Train” has become one of the most famous so-called “peace songs” in American music history. Stevens obviously wrote this song in the context of the Vietnam conflict in the early 1970s. But it has subsequently been used in many other contexts. The film Remember the Titans used this song as a call for peace amidst the turbulent racial conflicts that transpired during school desegregation in America. The song was sung during the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize presentation, by Cat Stevens himself. The song has also been recorded by other artists, including the American ROCK band, 10,000 Maniacs and COUNTRY singer, Dolly Parton.

Why do you believe a song like this has endured for more than two generations in America? And why have so many others like it endured? Calls for peace resonate with us, don’t they? Perhaps that is because our world seen so little peace. Since that dreadful day in the Garden of Eden, our world has been without, yet searching for, peace.

So, cries for peace are nothing new, really…

There were at least a couple of times, however, when those cries became louder…more pronounced. As God entered this world as an infant child in the shadow of a Bethlehem Inn, angels sang this song for all the world to hear:

Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace to men,
On whom His favor rests. (Luke 9:14)

You see those angels had been watching for some time. They recognized then what you’ve recognized in your time here. Earth is a place without peace! Their beautiful peace song that evening had to compete with a lot of other noise. Some Jews were anticipating a great war with Rome! Herod was hatching a plan to send his troops from door to door in the Jewish ghettos, killing all the baby boys. There was a lot of noise that night! But still they sang for peace!

And Peace did arrive that evening.

But He was hardly recognized. As He was born, the “No Vacancy” sign still shined brightly in the Bethlehem Inn parking lot. And aside from a few shepherds, this “king” of peace entered the world without much fanfare.

The second time the cries for peace became more pronounced that infant had grown to be an adult. Here is how it happened:

The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,

“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—the King of Israel!”

Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:

“Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him. So the crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify. It was also because they heard that he had performed this sign that the crowd went to meet him. The Pharisees then said to one another, “You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!” (John 12:12-19)

The calls for peace were there, but you have to dig a bit to hear them. John alludes to a text here from Zechariah 9.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
Righteous and having salvation is he,
Humble and mounted on a donkey,
On a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
And the war horse from Jerusalem;
And the battle bow shall be cut off,
And he shall speak peace to the nations;
His rule shall be from sea to sea,
And from the River to the ends of the earth.

When the crowds saw Jesus enter the city on the colt that day. They called Him “king” for a reason. Because they longed believe that:

When the Messiah arrived…

When the “king” arrived…

He would finally bring the peace that Zechariah talked about!

They had a big parade to welcome “Peace” into town! Did you know that at about the same time, there was another parade heading into town? Pontius Pilate was arriving from Caesarea, the capital of Judea—the Province over which he was governor. The governor of Judea came to town every year around the time of the Jewish Passover. You see, times of religious festivals were ripe for revolt! So, the governor traveled to town every year, just in case…

And he always arrived with pomp and circumstance: A long parade of horses, regality, nobility, power! The symbol of Rome…the protector of peace! You see, even the Romans wanted “peace”!

But across town, the small band of Jesus’ disciples welcomed their “king.” He didn’t have a parade of horses…only one colt. No symbols of power or regality…only a rag tag band of poor, homeless apostles. And all of these disciples, calling for “peace”.

You do understand, don’t you, that by “peace” most of them meant war! In calling Jesus “king,” and by spreading palm branches on the ground, many of these disciples thought their warrior king had finally arrived in the city! Now, there would be peace…because he would lead them to victory in war!

As all of creation calls for peace…

The Romans seek peace with the arrival of Pilate.

These disciples seek peace with the arrival of their “King.”

How ironic!

As all of creation calls for peace…

Here is Peace riding into town on a colt.

And still, so very few people see him, or even take notice.

Peace was right in front of their eyes, but they couldn’t see it! They couldn’t see it, because their own visions of what peace should look like were blinding their eyes.

On this Palm Sunday, I wonder, have our eyes been opened to see true Peace?

The choruses crying for peace have continued. They were there at the moment of Jesus’ birth. They cried out as Jesus rode into Jerusalem a week before his death. And people continued to cry out for peach through 20th century peace songs! Even today, I imagine that many of us are searching for peace. Maybe you’re looking for it today…

Why is it that peace seems to elude us? I think the answer to that universal, timeless question comes to us in a wonderful passage from Luke. Jesus said the reason they could not find peace is because they did not recognize the time of God’s visitation to them (Luke 9:51). They couldn’t find Peace because they couldn’t see God. They were looking for peace…but in all the wrong places…

Rome was looking for peace through the Roman government and military. The Jews were looking for peace through their military Messiah. In short, they were looking for peace through their own human power.

I can’t help but wonder if that is why peace so often eludes us as well. We seek peace…all of us at some points in our lives. And we wonder why we can’t find it! Maybe we are looking for peace through our own human power.

“I want peace with my children, but I don’t need God to raise my children.”

“I want peace with my money, but I don’t need God to help me manage my money.”

“I want peace with my business, but I don’t need God in my workplace.”

“I want peace in my school, but I don’t need God to follow me into the classroom.”

“I want peace in my marriage, but I can handle that without any help from God.”

“I want peace as I grow older and prepare to die, but I don’t need God’s help with that.”

Where is the peace? It comes from only one place. And here He comes riding into town on a colt. On this Palm Sunday, we are reminded that the Palm Branches were laid down before the King. Are we ready to do more than lay palm branches down?

Family Discussion:

As you begin to celebrate Easter week, consider these questions with your family.

Are you, as a family, ready to swear your allegiance to King Jesus?

Are you ready to trust this King?

Are we ready to rely on this King for everything…including our peace?

In what way(s) is your family not experiencing peace right now?

How can your relationship with the King of Peace help you find the peace you are looking for?