Unwrapping Christmas: Parent Cue

7 12 2011

Parents, as we move into the Christmas season we wanted to give you some insight into our discussions in Xtreme for the next two weeks (Dec. 11 and 18), and also some practical ways your family can create your own Christmas story.

1. Be a Student of What They are Learning

Christmas is that feel-good time of year when the lights are up, the holiday music is flowing and the cheer is palpable in the air. It’s also the time of year when we go through the same Christmas routine as always and pass another holiday season without necessarily thinking through how the story of Christmas is meant to change us, not just be a backdrop to two weeks off from school. So, this Christmas we’re going to take a fresh look at the Christmas story with some new insights to help us understand how revolutionary Jesus’ arrival on Earth really was. When we think of the Christmas story this year, let’s be reminded that Jesus is more than we need during the holiday season, and for the rest of the year too.

2. Be a Student of Your Student

What was it that used to make the holidays special when you were a kid? Was it the chill in the air signaling that Christmas break was right around the corner? Baking and decorating ginger bread cookies with a sibling or your mom or dad? Or, maybe it was that feeling you got on Christmas Eve as you waited for the morning when you could finally tear into those beautifully wrapped packages underneath your tree. Whatever may have made the holidays a special time for you, there is one thing that tends to define the Christmas season for most of us: family. When we are young, our families define what Christmas looks like from the traditions they keep to the way they express the story of Jesus to those around them. And, for those of us who are now raising families of our own, we are now defining Christmas for our families. It can feel a bit overwhelming establishing the values, traditions and attitudes that revolve around this idea of Jesus’ arrival on this Earth.

While most students may be able to tell us the “real” meaning of the season, they aren’t necessarily connecting it to the value of the Christmas story. Developmentally, our students are in a place where it is difficult to think outside of their own world and their own lives. They may have head knowledge of the Christmas story, but in order to take that and bring it down to heart level, there has to be an experience that they can call their own. This is especially important for those of us with middle school and younger high school students who are still in the developmental stage of egocentric abstraction. During this stage, your student is the center of his or her own world and is not easily able to identify with ideas and concepts that are not personally connected to their own feelings. However, when they have the chance to experience the joy of reaching out to others in the midst of other’s true needs, they can personally identify with the value of the Christmas story.

For those of us with older high school students, now is the time when they are beginning to widen their worldview and understand the world outside as more than the sum of their own feelings and experiences. For them, the experience of reaching out to others is a chance to put legs to the social and global concerns that are already stirring in their hearts. Once the meaning of the Christmas story is tangible through personal experience, it isn’t easily forgotten in the mind of your teen. Another thing to remember is that though developmentally your students are in a place where they may not fully “get” the meaning of the Christmas story, we as the adults in their lives are. It is necessary for us to set the example and show them the importance of the Christmas story. So, we may need to take some time on our own to reflect on the value of Jesus’ arrival on Earth before we can begin to define that for our students.

3. Action Point

This Action Point is where we, as parents, can start to define what Christmas is truly about through the traditions we establish and the way we express the Christmas story—in our homes, in our schools, in our churches, in our neighborhoods and to the world at large. This is not just an exercise for the Christmas season, but rather a great time to start refocusing our family’s attention on putting Christ back into His rightful place. So, this Christmas as you and your family settle into the usual gate of the holiday season, take a moment to pray, reflect and search your heart for how you want to represent the Christmas story to your family. And then, do something together as a family that will allow those values to be expressed in a way that will forever shape the way they “do” Christmas.

Here are some ideas for ways you and your family can connect to and define the Christmas story together:

  • Adopt a family for Christmas through the Salvation Army: Salvationarmyusa.org.
  • Volunteer at a local homeless shelter to serve a meal on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
  • Give one less gift this year to each family member and instead buy gifts for children whose parents are in prison through Angel Tree: Angeltree.org/angeltreehome.
  • If you have a musical family, visit a convalescent home or local children’s hospital and sing some of those Christmas favorites.
  • Help the local hospice or meals-on-wheels organization distribute Christmas dinners. You can help prepare the actual meals or donate your time and car to transport the meals to the elderly or sick.
  • Look through Martha Stewart and other crafty magazines or old craft books for Christmas-inspired crafts and buy enough supplies to have a hospital ward of children or a retirement home ward make crafts or ornaments with you and your family.
  • Ask your church if there is a family that attends that could use some extra help this holiday season. Invite them over for Christmas dinner or offer to buy and decorate a Christmas tree for them.

This Christmas, as you celebrate the gift of Jesus and the story of God’s redemption in all of our lives, take the time to put that message into motion. Christmas is not just about giving things away so that we get that warm fuzzy feeling, or because we want to “share the wealth.” It’s about expressing God’s heart for justice, love and reconciliation.

As well, here is an encouraging blog post entitled “10 Reasons to Escape Excessive Consumerism” by Joshua Becker. Check it out at: http://www.becomingminimalist.com/2011/08/03/escaping-excessive-consumerism/

Get connected to a wider community of parents at www.orangeparents.org





Forward Motion

20 11 2011

Series Overview

We’ve all made resolutions and set goals, but too often we fall short of what we expected to accomplish. Unfortunately it’s often the same when we try to become the Christian we really believe God has called us to be. We fall short of the goal and become increasingly discouraged. In this series, your student will learn that following Christ is more about the small steps we make every day, not about the huge leaps of faith that we think we need to make. They will set a goal, determine the first step and then make it. The series will end with a celebration!

Session One (November 20, 2011)

So many times we look at our lives with great expectations, thinking we should be leaps from where we are. We expect perfection. We expect to arrive at some level. The reality is that following Christ isn’t about leaping to instant perfection. We’re walking with Him daily–a walk that involves steps, not leaps. Following Jesus Christ is about the small steps we make every day, steps of obedience, steps in relationship with Him. Sometimes those steps are small, sometimes they are big–but they are all still steps, moving us forward.

Session One Parent Cue: Following Christ is about steps, not leaps. This week your students will be introduced to the myth: that Christianity is all about taking big leaps of faith. They will encounter some of Scripture’s most daunting verses, and wrestle with what it means to have a life of consistent spiritual growth. Each student will set a goal for himself or herself, and the next few weeks they will revisit their goals. Discuss with them what you think may be some unrealistic goals you have for yourself.

Session Two (November 27, 2011)

The goal of every Christian is to become more like Jesus. But the problem comes when we think we’re going to achieve that today. It’s a lifelong journey, a process, a walk. Following Jesus is about the steps we take every day, and as Christians, we have divine help in taking those steps–the Holy Spirit. What is the step God is asking to take? What’s holding you back from taking it?

Session Two Parent Cue: The way you get from where you are to where you want to be is one step at a time. This may sound ridiculously obvious, but we all forget it. We want to go to the gym one time and look like a model; we want to make one smart comment at work and be promoted right to the top. But we know deep down that isn’t the way things work. The good news is that in our spiritual development, God has not left us alone to work out the mess. He has sent His Spirit to guide us. This week, students will look at the power of the Holy Spirit to guide their paths, and they will make a plan for beginning to take the first step toward their goals. What is an obtainable goal that you can work on achieving this week? 

Session Three (December 4, 2011)

What if you acknowledged the steps you took every day in your own “walk” with God? What if you realized that even though you may not be where you want to be, you may be exactly where God wants you to be, learning the things you need to know one step at a time? It brings a lot of freedom, doesn’t it? But not only that, what if we started celebrating not only the steps we take every day, but the steps those around us do as well? Because what may not be a big deal for you, may be huge for someone else. And all that celebration begins to turn into one big party.

Session Three Parent Cue: Celebrate the steps you take in your relationship with God, and celebrate the steps others take as well. It’s all about celebration, not the cheap kind of celebration that comes from making a big deal out of nothing, but the real party that comes naturally when we know that we have made even the slightest move in the right direction. Your students will talk this week about what it looks like to encourage each other and celebrate with each other whenever they make progress toward one of their goals. What are some specific areas of growth you have seen in your teen in the last couple of weeks, months or even year?





New Friend Request

30 10 2011

Series Overview

We all want friends—even if we don’t want to admit it. We all want someone to hang out with, someone to talk to, someone who knows us. But friendship requires something from us. It’s not just what we get or what makes us feel comfortable or happy. There’s a smart way to do friendship, a way with intention, a way that will draw us closer to God’s heart—if we surround ourselves with the right people. That doesn’t mean our friends have to be clones of us—but it does mean that they at least help us move in the right direction.

Session One: Accept? (October 30, 2011) 

Having friends is great. Whether you want one, or you already have one, there’s just something about having other people in your life who you can count on. For many, friendships just happen. A new friend is in the right place at the right time. And while friendships may start out randomly, there is an intentionality about who we allow close to us—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Because the people who are closest to you have influence on your life. They help shape who you are. So who are the friends closest to you . . . and how are they influencing you?

Session One Parent Cue: Who are some of your closest friends? Why are these people so important to you?

Session Two: Respond? (November 6, 2011)

Someone to listen to my problems. Someone to do stuff with. Someone to talk to constantly. Someone to hang out with. When you make a list of what qualities you want in a friend, how many of the things on your list involve what that person can do for you? Most of us would have to admit that it’s a lot. But the best friendships are ones that are not just about what the other person can do for you—the best friendships also involve how you can be there for someone else. How you can listen, instead of always talking. How you can give someone space when he or she needs it, or just hang out when your friend needs that too. In other words, the best friendships are not centered solely on you—and that’s a good thing.

Session Two Parent Cue: What are some ways you’ve been able to help out your friends?

Session Three: Ignore? (November 13, 2011)

Relationships=conflict. It’s natural. It’s part of two people relating to one another because at some point, you’re not going to agree. One person will do something the other person doesn’t like. One person will let the other person down. One person will say or do something stupid. It happens. And at some point, it happens to us—either we’re the person making the mess, or the one who is feeling the effects of the mess. So how do you navigate your way through the drama? Do you just ignore it and hope it goes away? Do you just drop that friend? Or do you find a way to work it out? The choice is yours.

Session Three Parent Cue: What is the biggest fight you’ve ever had with a friend? What was the outcome? 





Unlikely

12 10 2011

Series Overview

If you haven’t noticed by now, we’re going to clue you in on something big about God—He doesn’t exactly operate like most of us. What we mean is, He chooses the most unlikely people to work through. He shows up in the most unlikely places. And then He asks us to respond in ways that are unlikely and go against our normal response. And what it all boils down to is this—you and I are unlikely people God uses in unlikely places to respond in unlikely ways.

Session One: An Unlikely Person (October 9, 2011)

Sometimes we think that everyone else is more qualified or likely than we are to be a part of God’s story. But even though we may feel insignificant, unimportant or unworthy, God says we are not only valuable—we are wanted! Even though we, or even others, would declare us unlikely, God says we’re not. He declares the unlikely, “likely.” Because what God wants is people who are available—He always picks availability over ability.

Session One Parent Cue: Describe a time when you felt unlikely. 

Session Two: An Unlikely Place (October 16, 2011)

At youth group. At a retreat. With Christian friends. Those are the likely places we expect to find God. But the funny thing about Him is that He doesn’t like to be boxed in. God shows up in the most unlikely places. Just look at how Jesus came into the world—in relative obscurity. And if we look at some areas of our lives, we would probably say that God would show up anywhere but here—whether “here” is homeroom, the hallways at school, your job bagging groceries or even your home. But remember that God shows up in the most unlikely places.

Session Two Parent Cue: Have you ever sent glimpses of God at work in unlikely places or circumstances? 

Session Three: An Unlikely Response (October 23, 2011)

If someone hits you, you hit him back. Or if someone says something mean about you, you say something mean back. Be cool with people who are cool to you and dislike people who are not. Now, some of us wouldn’t come right out and say we agree with those statements. But behind closed doors or in our heads, most of us would agree with it. This week, we’re going to take a look at some Jesus’ words, words that called for some very unlikely responses to those around us.

Session Three Parent Cue: Jesus calls us to respond in unlikely ways. What are some ways that you can respond in unlikely ways to the people you encounter each day? (bless those who curse you, forgive, etc.)