Tracing Glory: The Christmas Story Through the Bible

Tracing Glory: The Christmas Story Through the Bible

Click Here to Download Tracing Glory – Advent Devotional

My absolute love for the Christmas season began when I was a very little girl and continues still. The music, lights, decorations, family traditions, gifts and (most of all) the mystery of God made flesh truly make this one of the most wonderful times of my year. As a child, the Christmas season felt just about perfect in every way, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that my view of the season itself was somewhat idealized in the naivety of childhood.

As wonderful as December is, the realities of living in a fallen world don’t just go away during this special month. On the contrary, they’re often highlighted. Busyness and stress creep in. The longer to-do lists are exhausting. Relationships are challenging. Grief is more raw than usual. Children still have meltdowns, and there is still laundry! I’ve come to realize that my hope and joy must run deeper than the season itself, or I’ll be let down every year.

The cliche’ “Jesus is the reason for the season,” is almost as overused as it is true. I know well that Jesus is the reason for the season. Of course, he is our hope in December and every month of the year! But just because I know it’s true doesn’t mean I function as if it’s true. In the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it’s all too easy to make very little room for Christ. If Jesus truly is the reason (and hope) for the season, then he must be central in my heart and home the whole month through. How do I make this my reality in the busiest month of the year when so many other things vie for my time and affections?

I have found that if Christ is not central in my life during the first eleven months of the year, he won’t be central in the last month either. If I am not rooted in the Bible’s big story January through November, I will miss the sheer magnitude of what I read in Luke chapter two during December. The centrality of Christ at Christmas is tied to my love for him and commitment to his Word every day of the year. It is also tied to my intentionality to think and plan ahead for a Christ-focused Christmas season.

Tracing Glory: The Christmas Story Through the Bible is a twenty-four day Advent reading I wrote for our family to use this December and for many Decembers to come. It begins looking back at creation and ends looking forward to the new creation, tracing Jesus Christ from start to finish. I wrote this devotional primarily for my boys because I want them to understand that the birth of Christ is the climactic event of a much larger story–a story about God’s mission to redeem sinful people for his glory.  

This advent reading was written with children, teens, and adults in mind. My goal was to communicate big truths in ways a child could grasp. I want to help readers see how every story in the Bible points either forward or backward to the hero of the story.

In each day’s reading, there is a key Scripture given to look up as the basis for that day’s devotional. Next is my written commentary on the key Scripture. At the end of each day’s reading, I have summarized the key Scripture and commentary with one main point and Christ connection, showing how that particular Bible passage points to Jesus Christ.

While preschoolers may not yet be able to grasp all the content given in the key Scripture and commentary, they will benefit from hearing the main point. I would suggest that parents of very young children read the first two sections and then communicate those truths to their children at their particular level of understanding. I think most school-aged children and teens will benefit from listening to or reading the commentary, but families can decide what works best for their particular situation. This is a resource that very young children can grow into through the years.

This Advent resource can be printed and spiral bound or put into a three ring binder for organization and easy access. At the back of the devotional, I have included individual pictures of an ornament suggestion for each day. These are simple ornaments I have made or bought to use with our family. Each day of the Advent season, my children will unwrap the ornament that corresponds to the key Scripture we will be focusing on and hang it on our Advent tree (see picture). These ornaments can be easily replicated, or you can cut out the pictures provided and use those as visuals with your children each day. Having a visual helps children grasp the meaning of the text and makes Advent exciting as they anticipate what ornament they will open each day.

The story you will encounter in this Advent reading is both epic and true, and it isn’t finished yet. We are living within this grand story now, awaiting the final chapter when we will see Christ face-to-face and dwell with him forever. My prayer is that, as we wait, God would use this resource to help us stand in awe of his matchless glory.  As we encounter the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love for us in Christ, may we move to worship him every day in December and the whole year through.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Sarah Rice

Click Here to Download Tracing Glory – Advent Devotional

It would be remiss of me not to thank those who have so graciously contributed their time and gifts to this project. To my pastor John Sloan: Thank you for your time and endorsement in writing the foreword, and thank you for encouraging women to use their gifts in the church. To Brandee Sandusky: Your art work for the cover makes this resource inviting and provides a helpful visual for little ones. Thank you for using your talent to put my vision on paper. To my friend Casey Capps: Thank you for taking time to meticulously proofread for grammar mistakes and answer many capitalization questions. You are a precious friend. Finally, to my husband (and other pastor) Adam Rice: This project would not have been possible without you. Thank you for encouraging me to write, formatting all my work into a document (handling all the “techy” things I don’t know how to do), and listening to me talk about this project for the past two months. You are my greatest supporter, friend, and partner in ministry. I love you! 

 

 

 

Making the Most of the Time

Making the Most of the Time

My mom recently made the observation that about one-third of the time we have with our oldest son Luke living in our home is gone. Over. Poof. Well, how did that happen? Cue the tears because that was a fast six years that we will never get back. Luke has moved from babyhood to boyhood and will soon move to adolescence and adulthood before our eyes.

Reminders of the rapid passing of time and the rate at which our children are growing and changing often awaken a mix of excitement, sadness and maybe even a little panic in our hearts. While in some seasons the days feel endlessly long, our children are moving steadily toward independence from us. And despite how we may feel about it on any given day, isn’t that the point of parenting?

The Scriptures teach that human beings should consider the passing of time and remember our frail and transient state on this earth. Our mortal lives are compared to a vapor that appears for a while and then vanishes at a time unknown to us (James 4:14). We are to number our days in order to gain a heart of wisdom–a heart that is governed by eternal priorities (Psalm 90:12). As we walk in wisdom, we are to make the most of the time we have been given (Ephesians 5:15), which includes the *roughly* eighteen years that we have been given with our children in the home. So, how do we do this? How do we wisely make the most of the time? 

Instruct with Intentionality  

God has given parents the gloriously weighty task of teaching our children to think about and truthfully answer all of life’s big questions: Who is God? Who are we? What is our greatest problem? What has God done to solve our greatest problem? In other words, it is our responsibility as parents to bring our children up in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4), and our window of time to do so is relatively short.

As with all weighty and worthy goals, planning and intentionality are essential for the spiritual training of our children, and it is foolish for parents to live as if this is not the case. Our families lead busy, full-to-the-brim lives–days consumed with work, school, appointments, activities, chores, and entertainment. Making the most of the time we’ve been given on earth with our kids to train them spirituallly can easily be neglected or forgotten. But this is insanity! We will soon be gone and fly away (Psalm 90:10), and only our eternal investments will remain. Our kids will not learn the truths of God through osmosis, especially in a world that preaches a gospel contrary to that which we have received. 

The intentional spiritual instruction of our children is an investment that will always require some level of sacrifice. It may mean less time for TV, social media, or hobbies on our part. It may mean saying no to certain activities for our kids so the family can have dinner and time at home together. It may even mean saying no to a certain career path for ourselves so that we are more available to invest in our kids. Intentional instruction will mean thinking through the practical aspects of how to best communicate God’s truth as comprehensively as possible to our kids in the time we have been given. It will mean guarding our own time in the Word and in the presence of Christ so that His truth naturally overflows into our conversations as we walk and play and eat and ride to ball practice.

*At the end of this post, I have shared some resources we are using to help with the spiritual instruction of our kids

Parent by Grace

Intentional instruction is necessary, but if it isn’t rooted in grace it’s downright dangerous. Here’s the thing. We can teach our kids the truths of God all day long, but we can’t save their souls anymore than we can save our own. Our kids can memorize catechisms, recite Scripture, and know all the right answers to all the right questions, but they can’t remove their own heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). We can teach them to modify their behavior on the outside to some degree, but we can never eradicate the pride and selfishness and fear inside their hearts. Intentional instruction can never breath spiritual life into the hearts of our children, but instruction that is rooted in grace can greatly prepare and fertilize the soil for the Holy Spirit to do so when he wills.

Parenting by grace means recognizing and acknowledging our own inadequacies. Our instruction will never be as intentional and consistent as it could be, and our lives will never perfectly reflect what we teach. We won’t perfectly make the most of the time we have with our kids, and often when we do try to use our time for God’s purposes things won’t go as planned. But praise be to God! He doesn’t save us or our children based on our own (utterly unattainable) perfection but rather on the perfection of His spotless Son. Parenting by grace means teaching our kids the gospel but also living like that gospel is true as we entrust Him with our times and the hearts of our precious little ones. As the days with our children pass before us, grace enables us not to panic or fear but to rest in His faithfulness. 

Rejoice in the Gospel

In Psalm chapter 90, Moses notes the brevity of human life on earth. He prays not only that the Lord would teach us to number our days but also that He would satisfy us with His steadfast love each morning. If we are fulfilled by God’s love for us, we can  have joy and gladness all of the days of our brief life on earth (Psalm 90:14). Making wise use of our time as parents is important, but it will never ultimately satisfy us because our time with our kids here on earth will eventually run out. Training our children is necessary, but even if they grow to love and serve Him, our days on this earth will still be full of toil and trouble and will end in death (Psalm 90:10). We  should not look to our children for our happiness when things are going well with them, and we should not despair when things are not. The Bible is clear that absolutely nothing but the faithful love of God Himself can truly satisfy our souls during our short lives in this world and forevermore. And how can we be assured of this steadfast love of God? By looking at Jesus Christ. God did not spare his only Son, but gave Him to take away our sins, heal our brokenness and raise us to new life–a life where our days won’t be numbered.

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**Intentional instruction is not easy, but make it your goal to just start somewhere! It may be fifteen minutes, three or four times a week, but make a plan for your family. We talk about the things of the Lord with our kids throughout the day, as we drive in the car, etc., but we try to have intentional time as a family around the dinner table several nights a week to instruct our kids in the truths of Scripture. This time is usually CRAZY, as their attention spans are short and they have LOTS of energy.  The (almost) two year old is usually banging on his highchair tray and “scream talking”. But we have a goal throughout the years they are in our home (we are not doing all of this right now) to teach them…

-The overarching story of the Bible as well as individual Bible stories: (Resource: The Jesus Storybook Bible)

-Basic Theology: (Resource: The New City Catechism, )

Books of the Bible: (Resource: We use a song I learned as a child in AWANA, but there are several helpful songs available on Youtube)

-Overview of books of the Bible: ( Resource: Planning to use this in the future- Bible Survey for Kids)

The Gospel: ( Resource: Big Thoughts for Little Thinkers Series)

-Advent: (Resource: Truth in the Tinsel)

Easter: (Resource: Resurrection Eggs and Benjamin’s Box)

Scripture memory through song: (Resource: Slugs & Bugs)

 

 

Your Kids Need Your Patience, Not Your Power

Your Kids Need Your Patience, Not Your Power

 

There are times when I’m reading God’s Word and a verse seems to literally jump off the page at me. Maybe a light bulb of understanding flashes on in my mind or a connection is made for the first time. Most often, the lamp of God’s Word shines deep within, and His Spirit pricks me with conviction as the true condition of my heart is revealed.

This happened recently as I came to the following verse in my reading through the book of Proverbs: 

Patience is better than power, and controlling one’s emotions than capturing a city. (Prov 16:32)

Ouch.

As the long days of summer have worn on, I’ve found myself quick to lose patience and grasp for power, particularly in my relationships with my boys. Here’s the thing: Summer is really fun. I love having all three boys home all the time. I love getting to sleep later and have lazy mornings with nowhere to be. I love having time to swim, play with friends, travel, read and take the boys to lots of new places. I love having more opportunities to teach them all sorts of things as I seek to fill their minds with truth. I consider it a privilege and joy to be home with them each day.

But summer has its challenges too. While there are more opportunities to spend time together enjoying and loving each other, there are also more opportunities to rub each other wrong…to irritate each other…to sin against each other. Constant family togetherness means the shortcomings of four sinful human beings are highlighted and on display. Selfishness, pride, anger, fear, manipulation, sibling rivalry. In the summertime, more than in other seasons, I see my kids’ individual weaknesses and the sinfulness of their hearts.

And my natural tendency is to want to fix my kids by my own power. In other words, I want to say and do all the right things as a parent to produce the desired effect in their hearts and behavior. I find myself trying to smooth out their rough edges with solid biblical parenting–trying to somehow mend their flaws and melt away their fears and insecurities so that I can feel really good about my kind, obedient, well-adjusted and happy kids. And if none of this “good” power parenting works, it’s likely I’ll completely lose patience. I’ll let my own irritation, anxiety, and fear take the wheel, and in a final ditch effort yell, “WHY CAN YOU NOT DO____?!?!  WHAT IS SO HARD ABOUT____?!?! JUST STOP IT! NOW!!!!!!” 

Patience is better than Power.

When I read these words, I felt the Lord whisper to my heart, “They are not your projects, Sarah. They are gifts from my hand. They are blessings to steward, not burdens to shoulder. You will not give account for how you changed or healed or fixed them. That is not a job you can even do. It’s mine alone. You will give account for how you loved them. And my love is patient. It is not irritable. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things. My love never ends. You can be faithful and rest in grace as you trust Me with the hearts of your boys.”

Loving my kids with a Christ-like love, doesn’t mean glossing over their sins and struggles with an “anything goes” mentality. The proverbs also repeatedly command parents to discipline their children in love: Discipline your son while there is hope; don’t set your heart on being the cause of his death (Prov 19:18). No, loving my kids with a Christ-like love means being faithful to raise them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4),  being patient with the process rather than trying to force visible results that, in reality, I have no power to produce. 

When the apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian believers to bring their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, he was telling them to raise their children in the Gospel. Paul’s Gentile audience (Greek believers) would have raised their children in the instruction of the philosophers. The Jews would have raised their children in the instruction of the Law. But Paul is calling followers of Christ to something new: Gospel-centered parenting. And the good news of the gospel is that “we are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope” (Tim Keller). Loving my kids patiently and raising them in the instruction and discipline of the Lord means giving them the good news of grace as I rest in that grace myself.

Jesus Christ came to this world and lived the perfect, pure, and righteous life that my boys and I could never live. He died a horrific, unimaginable death in our place. He triumphed over death when he rose from the grave, and He lives to offer us forgiveness, His own righteousness and transformation through His Spirit. When I am resting in the gospel, I can stop grasping for power and love my boys with a patience that endures the process–rough sinful edges and all–because that is how Christ has loved me. I can discipline and teach in love rather than irritation and fear, extending the good news of grace that has been extended to me. I can parent in a way that hopes all things because my hope is grounded in the finished work of good, merciful and mighty Savior, not the way my kids behave on any particular day. My life can exhibit the truth that patience is better than power because God’s patient grace has changed me. . . and his patient grace will change them too.

The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and His mercy is over all that he has made. Psalm 145:8

 

 

Tidings of Comfort and Joy!

The 2013 Stevens-family-Christmas-card-photo-shoot needed to be recorded in the archives for posterity’s sake. Because future generations need to understand that they come from a bunch of crazies! And fun crazies to boot!

{Disclaimer: some of these photos have dark shadows and heads cut out. We used the self timer for this shoot because who do you ask to come over and take photos of your entire family in footie pajamas? At least we got a few good ones.}

So, Merry Christmas and tidings of great comfort and joy from our family to yours!

2013 Stevens family Christmas card
2013 Stevens family Christmas card

SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC I believe I can fly…SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC

Fire prevention parade and the difficult twos

Fire Prevention week is one of those fun, small town traditions that’s hard to understand and appreciate unless you’ve been a part of it. But in the little town I hail from, it’s a pretty big, stinkin’ deal.  A whole week in October is centered around fire prevention activities. The firemen come to the schools and churches, and there’s a big banquet for the fire department in which the fire queen and her maids are presented. And then the best part. The fire prevention parade. School even lets out early for it. Growing up, we stood on the sidewalk in front of my friend Rachael’s house every year to catch candy and watch the firetrucks, floats, and marching bands parade on by. Priceless memories. photo (16)photo (27)Well, after years away from my childhood home, I feel like I’ve come full-circle. Because this year, my own child got to experience the fire prevention parade for himself. And from what I heard, he had himself a grand ol’ time. He loves nothing more than a good firetruck.

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I love this one of him hauling in his loot, sucker in mouth. Serious business.
I love this one of him hauling in his loot, sucker in mouth. Serious business.

I’m really glad Luke got to have this fun experience that I’m thinking will become an annual tradition. Even though I was originally planning to be there with him, I’m glad he got to make this first-time-fire-prevention-memory with just my parents. I think it was a special time for all of them.

And, to be honest, it was a refreshing time for me. L spent most of the week with my parents, and it was a much needed break for this mama. Because, even though he’s all smiles in the pictures, real day-to-day life with a two year old is not all smiles all the time. I now understand why they call it “the terrible twos,” although I think “the difficult twos” might be more accurate. Not every day is terrible, but every day is difficult. Every day brings challenges. There is testing, there is whining, and there is extreme frustration when things don’t go his way. There is more moodiness than I would expect from a 13-year-old girl. There is a seeming inability to grasp the necessity of first-time obedience, regardless of the consequences he faces. Patience, loving correction, and consistent discipline often take more intentionality and strength than I feel I have to give. Most days, I’m just worn slap out.

BUT.

In the challenges, and in my moments of weakness and parenting struggles, God is faithful. His grace is there, and it’s always enough. It is sufficient for me, and I am shaped by the hard moments and days.

And God is kind to give us many precious, joyful moments peppered between those fits. A hug, a kiss, an “I love you, Dah-dee” {the way he says “daddy” sounds somewhat British, and it’s completely adorable}. Excitement, passion, and the twinkling of bright blue eyes. And every now and then, first-time obedience with a hearty, “Yes ma’am, Mommy!”

Though every moment is not fun, there is a deeper joy in the parenting journey we’re on with our little Luke. Joy in the good and the beautiful. Joy in the hard and the not-so-beautiful. The sovereign hand of our Father is faithfully weaving together the tapestry of our lives. Every thread of joy and hardship has it’s place. Nothing–not even the difficult twos– is wasted in this process of making us who He wants us to be.

Cousin Play

We went to Jackson for a few days this past week, and Adam’s brother’s family happened to be right up the road in Thomasville during their spring break. We got together for a cousin play-date {a rare but precious treat}, and I pulled the “real camera” out for the first time in a long time.

DSC05366 SONY DSC SONY DSC DSC05374SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC DSC05387 DSC05388 DSC05390DSC05384

DSC05395 SONY DSC DSC05398 DSC05403DSC05405 DSC05409 DSC05410Beautiful, fair-skinned babies, aren’t they? 🙂

We’re so thankful to have the other Rice family in our lives! Bo and Bek are not only our partners and mentors in ministry, they are also our dear friends. Time with them is always a treat!

December Fun

There’s this adorable little park that we drive by almost every day on our way to and from the house, and it’s lit up with all sorts of fantastic lights this time of year. Mr. Boy always notices the lights from the car and points and “talks” when we drive by. So one night, we thought we’d stop and let him see the lights up close.
IMG_3534The pictures aren’t so grand and really don’t capture the beauty {I have issues with night pictures}, but Mr. Boy wasn’t disappointed.

DSC05146He pitched a fit when he had to say goodbye to the giant Frosty and get back in the car.
DSC05153 DSC05161And since we’re just so full of Christmas cheer, we also stopped by the mall to see Santa. Mr. Boy wasn’t a fan, which makes me thankful that I made the decision to stand outside the gate and take my own pictures, rather than paying $35 for a package of “professionally made” photos of my child screaming his head off in Santa’s lap. Santa’s photographer elves just loved me.
DSC05168 The good news is, L LOVED the little cars in the middle of the mall that you can ride for a whole 75 cents. Have I mentioned that he is really into cars and trucks right now? I mean REALLY into them. The only words to describe it are unbridled OBSESSION. In the pictures below, he’s making his “truck sound” which reminds me of the drumroll that Ellen does right before Clarke lights up the house on Christmas Vacation. He can do this great tongue roll thing and draw it out forever and a day.
DSC05169 Then, after he touched the seat, floor, steering wheel, windshield and every other inch of the car, he stuck his thumb in his mouth. Great. Because I will not survive it if we all get the stomach virus again. DSC05170 See, like I said. Not a fan of Santa yet. But can you blame him? I mean, we just handed him off to this BIG, strange man in a funny outfit and a HUGE chair. Not gonna lie, if I was a year old, I might be a little freaked too. DSC05171I just wanted to take him and see his reaction. I have memories of going to see Santa every year at the mall in Mobile with my siblings. We would prepare our little lists and go sit on his lap and tell him everything we wanted. And we really believed, y’all. We loved it. Well, that is, until we got to early middle school and mom still made Jenny and me go see Santa because “Will still believes, and he should get to see Santa just as many years as you girls did.” At that point, it was more like torture…just like it was for our little guy. Bless it!
DSC05172Merry Christmas, Y’all!