Happy Holidays? Does it really matter?

Christmas TreeWe just heard yet another news story about the evergreen tree with colored lights on it being called a “holiday tree” this year. We attended the Phoenix Symphony yesterday for a wonderful afternoon of “Holiday Pops,” where Santa Claus wished us all “Happy Holidays.” And last night a very kind Home Depot employee noticed my VBS t-shirt before telling us that he refuses to obey corporate policy and always wishes people a “Merry Christmas.”

All of this got me wondering, does it really make any difference? Perhaps the bigger issue is how we, who know Jesus, celebrate every day of our lives!  In fact, instead of watching the world take Christ out of Christmas, what if we put Jesus INTO every holiday?  Why not try celebrating a bit differently in 2013:

  • On January 21 (MLK Day), honor God and Martin Luther King, Jr, by living in peace with others in so much as it is possible for you.
  • On February 14 (Valentine’s Day), don’t just talk about love; set aside your “wants” and do what’s best for another human.
  • On March 31 (Easter), dedicate your life to enjoying the “life” (and life abundant) that Jesus came to bring.
  • On April 22 (Earth Day), consider God’s blessings and see how you might be a better steward of all he has loaned you.
  • On May 12 (Mother’s Day), consider how you might truly “honor” your mother, and her Creator.
  • On May 27 (Memorial Day), remember those who have served you, by serving others in the name of Jesus. (Have you washed anyone’s feet lately?)
  • On June 16 (Father’s Day), consider how you might truly “honor” your father, and his Creator.calendar (I can always use a, “Thanks for trying hard to be a good dad,” from my kids.)
  • On July 4 (Independence Day), confess the sins of our country and admit our dependence on him!
  • On September 2 (Labor Day), thank God for your job…for the call he has given you to make a difference in the world!
  • On October 31 (Halloween), recognize the reality of the spiritual realm, and be thankful that our God is a mighty God.
  • On November 11 (Veteran’s Day), pray that Jesus returns soon, to end all wars!
  • On November 28 (Thanksgiving), show your thankfulness for his blessings by not obsessing over Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Be satisfied!
  • On December 25 (Christmas), don’t worry about what Santa wishes you, but know that Jesus came so that we might have life and commanded us to made disciples of all the nations.  Hey, maybe that should be our New Year’s resolution?

Merry Christmas,

Gordon & Becki West

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Why are we still losing kids?

Although pollsters can’t seem to agree on the exact percentage of kids who are dropping out of church in the “gap” between children’s ministry and youth ministry programs, we all know that the number is high.  Too high! 

While many ministry leaders have used creative ways to prepare kids for the transition by overlapping leadership teams or visiting each other’s classrooms, for years there has been a critical element missing: relationship. But we’re not talking about “relationships” with other students and ministry leaders. We’re talking about that most significant relationship of all, the child’s personal and transformative relationship with God.

We say that “true Christians” have a “relationship with Jesus.” But let’s be honest.  For most evangelicals, “relationship” simply means some unique standing I have that will get me into heaven for free.  That kind of relationship falls far short of the intimacy that we would want with any beloved human in our lives and will never be transformative in the child’s life, nor mine.

That’s where “spiritual formation” comes in.  For a few decades, leaders and ministries have focused on equipping volunteers to teach kids about God in the most effective ways possible.  While this is good, teaching kids “about” God is only one piece of the puzzle.  Spiritual formation engages kids with God.  That’s very different.

The principles of spiritual formation are ancient and involve practices that have been exercised by God’s people before and after Jesus’ day. When we set aside time for scripture reading, prayer, fasting, solitude…in ways that slow us down long enough to listen to what God is saying…we are opening ourselves to the transformation process.

Children can encounter God personally through spiritual formation practices, too. If we trust kids to want God and we strip away a few minutes of the “noise” at church so that our students and our Lord have time to talk.

In their book, Listening to Children on the Spiritual Journey, Catherine Stonehouse and Scottie May share their research involving children who had engaged in spiritual disciplines in their regular children’s worship.  Sam, a five-year old boy, tells them: “He just talks! He talks to us overnight, he talks to us, he never stops!” (p. 47).

Let’s not just change the name of our Christian education and discipleship programs to go with the new trend of spiritual formation.  Let’s expose ourselves to the same spiritual transformative disciplines that helped Jesus as he grew in wisdom and stature.  Then let’s share them with our children and students, trusting that a real God can and will speak to children who can and will listen. That relationship will keep kids coming back.

What can kids do? KidZ KaN…

While American churches are doing more than ever before for children, the most important thing we can do for our kids is to help them discover what they can do for others!

In the words of that great philosopher, Dr. Seuss, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” But just as the Whos needed Horton to stop and listen to them, so do our kids! KidZ KaN…make a difference! And they want to make a difference.

KidZ at Heart International is not a “foreign” missions agency. We are a mission for God’s kids, here and there! And we are passionate about equipping families in North America to reach and teach their own children for Christ.

And that’s why KidZ at Heart International is inviting you and the families of your church to register for our brand new KidZ KaN for Families program. Each month, your family will get easy-to-use tools to help you stop and listen to one another as you tour the world. You’ll receive creative, flexible activities that will help your whole family gain a heart for God’s work around the world!

In their landmark study, Search Institute tells us that “four family practices are particularly important in helping young people grow in faith:

  1. Talking about faith with your mother.
  2. Talking about faith with your father.
  3. Having family devotions or prayer.
  4. Doing family projects to help other people.”

And now your family can explore all four of these faith-formation factors through the creative activities of KidZ at Heart’s KidZ KaN for Families.  Each month, you will receive an electronic newsletter focused on a new country and packed with creative ideas for you to use at your own pace, including:

  • “Make It (create a family memento or do a project together);
  • “Play It” (enjoy a cultural game);
  • “Pray It” (gather to pray for the real needs of real children);
  • “Read It” (explore life in-country through a story);
  • “Taste It” (follow a kid-friendly recipe to make a cultural dish).

KidZ KaN makes a great Christmas gift for your own family, your grandkids or your friends! Subscribe to KidZ KaN today for just $22 for the first year and get age-appropriate activities and discussion ideas that will easily fit into your busy family life. Know that this small investment will help fund ministries to children around the world, through the work of KidZ at Heart International.

KidZ at Heart wants to help you maximize those special moments with your family – and give your kids a heart for the world.