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In this episode, Josh and I talk about Santa can overshadow Christ during the holiday season. We discuss ideas for focusing our families’ attention on Christ by talking about Advent and the origin of “Santa Claus”. We also talk about how even some wholesome family traditions can inadvertently overshadow Christ’s incarnation.

Links

The Origin of Santa Claus and the Christian Response to Him – By Dr. Richard P. Bucher

Pastor Will Weedon of St. Paul Lutheran-Hamel, IL
Issues, Etc. – Saint Nicholas
Commemoration of St. Nicholas of Myra

Myths around the birth narrative

The Santa Hammer – Necessary Roughness
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In this episode Josh and I delve into multiple aspects of Thanksgiving. We talk about how our families celebrate Thanksgiving and some of the interesting tensions that arise because of the differing views on faith and God. We then talk a little about the history and Christian roots of Thanksgiving (Were the Pilgrims practicing Open Communion?). Then we dive into what scripture has to say about giving thanks, particularly in Psalms 136 and 98 and how to talk to our kids about being thankful to God and what He has done for us in Christ. We round thing out by talking about the transition from Thanksgiving to Advent and the Christmas shopping season.

Scripture

Psalm 136:3-9 (ESV)

Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who alone does great wonders, for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who by understanding made the heavens, for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who spread out the earth above the waters, for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who made the great lights, for his steadfast love endures forever;
the sun to rule over the day, for his steadfast love endures forever;
the moon and stars to rule over the night, for his steadfast love endures forever;

Psalm 98:1 (ESV)

Oh sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things!

Hebrews 13:15 (ESV)

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.

Romans 8:31-37 (ESV)

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be[a] against us?
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.
Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
As it is written,

“For your sake(I) we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us

Issues, Etc Episodes on Giving Thanks

November 27, 2008
http://issuesetc.org/archives/Nov08.html

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Post image for “My First Hymnal” Book Released (with Video Promo)Echoing the topic of podcast #6 titled “Using Music and Hymns to Enrich Christian Kids and Why”, one of our favorite book producers, Concordia Publishing House, has released “My First Hymnal”edited by David A. Johnson.

The description and promo video note the book includes hymns, but also the Creeds, prayers, Psalms, and explanations regarding the Church year, etc. I have not see it in person (be happy to review it on the site CPH!), but this book looks approachable to youngins while also being more substantive than many of the dumbed down “Christian” songbooks lacking in Christ-centric messages. For instance, in the excerpt (PDF) provided on CPH’s website, the introduction includes:

“Jesus comes into the flesh to serve us. On the cross He offered Himself to be our sacrifice for the sins of the world. Through His perfect life, ministry, death, and resurrection, Jesus gives to His children grace, mercy, forgiveness, and eternal life.”

You can view an except (PDF) of the book, checkout the promo video (also below), or order the book. Hopefully this will be a gift we can get for my kids for the Holidays or otherwise to help teach the Gospel through the use of hymnody.

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A prayer for your children

I came across this prayer from Cyberbrethren (which was sourced from Pastor Weedon’s blog & Starck’s Prayer Book) which I thought I’d pass on to our readers who may find helpful & useful when praying for your children.

“Heavenly Father, immediately after their natural birth, I placed them into the arms of Your mercy in Holy Baptism. Behold, I now do the same in my prayer. Bless my children. Attend them in their going out and their coming in. Keep them in Your holy fear, that they may never burden their consciences with sins or offend You, or worst of all, fall from Your grace. Give them believing, humble, obedient, and godly hearts, that, like the child Jesus, they may increase in stature, wisdom and favor with God and men. Imprint on their hearts the image of Jesus in order that they may always keep, until their blessed end, a gracious God and an unstained conscience. Let my children be devout in their prayers, well-grounded in their Christian faith, steadfast and zealous in worship, chaste in their living, godly in their conversation, so that by their words and actions they may give offense to no one and thus bring upon themselves a fearful judgment. Preserve them from temptations and evil company. By Your Holy Spirit keep them constantly in mind of Your holy presence, that they remember that You are with them at home and away, in their room, by day and by night, in the company of others and when they are alone. Let Your holy angels be with them when they go out and when they come in. Let Your angels guard them when they travel. Give them Your holy angels as their companions. By their aid rescue them from dangers, as You did with Lot. Let them, like Jacob, live under the angels’ watchful care. –pp. 170, 171

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How are we Christians to discipline (or not) our children?  Should you use force?  Is pacifism too extreme?  How do we know the boundaries?  Christ used force and peace to make points in His ministry, so how can we use that as an example?  Just as the Bible can be confused without the application of Law & Gospel, so can parenting.

No Simple Answers, but there is the Bible

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)

There are no simple answers to practically parenting concerns like discipline.  This website in large part was created to be an antithesis to so many parenting books, how-tos, and gurus who have endless methods as to how to raise your kids. While they can be useful, almost all of those theories are secular and based on human constructs of psychology.  Therefore, with the chance of sounding too theoretical, The Parental Office‘s approach to such questions is to look to the Bible and its doctrine.  Like every issue we address, the parent’s goal should be to be Christ-centric in their life as parents and people.

We had a listener who commented last week on our Contact page. Her and her husband enjoy the show, but asked about practical things like those mentioned above.  Upon reading, Christ-oriented answers were not apparent right away.  Upon reflection, it hit me.  Law & Gospel!  Parents should discipline practically in light of Law & Gospel. I was then reminded of an excellent article in The Lutheran Study Bible which is titled, you guessed it, “Law and Gospel Parenting” (page 2025, in Ephesians).  The following partly paraphrases that piece.

Law & Gospel as a Guide

As parents we get confused about when is time and how to act (or not). A kid throws a book across the room, hits a sibling, or has a tantrum. As adults we also throw “tantrums”, too often directed at God. Things don’t go our way or a prayer seems not to be answered, so we get mad.  Then what does God do?  He slaps us back into reality with His Law.  Through reading or hearing His word we see our sin on display.  The rules of the Law are ever present and sets a standard no human can achieve.  Only Christ, whom atoned for our sin through His death on the Cross, redeems us from this sin.  This Gospel is our and our children’s only true hope.  When our kids throw their tantrums and refuse the 4th Commandment’s clear dictate to “Honor your father and your mother”, their hope also only lies in Christ. To help them understand this, we as earthly caregivers should act as God does, appropriately applying the Law and then applying the Gospel.

When do you apply the Law and when do you apply the Gospel?  The same times we are taught to do so when dealing with all sinners.  When a person is unrepentant, then we give them the Law.  We expose their sin and prove their guilt.  When a person is repentant, then we deliver the Gospel.  We tell them of forgiveness and absolve their guilt through Christ.  It is no different for children.  These little sinners sometimes are unrepentant and sometime repentant.

Law and Grace, by Lucas Cranach the Elder, a Lutheran. The left side of the tree illustrates law, while the right side illustrates grace. (From WikiCommons; Public Domain)

Timeout as an example

When our son Noah is unrepentant by ignoring a command or acting in a inappropriate way, he goes to timeout.  He usually yells for awhile in anger (darn “old Adam” in him).  When he calms down and collects himself we go over to him and he usually is repentant (if not, he stays in timeout).  We ask him what he did wrong, ask him to say he sorry to us, and then given him a hug and say “I love you.”  If his wrongdoing was directed at one of us or his brothers, he is directed to ask forgiveness of them (and give them a hug). He does so.

While this little example does not always go so smoothly (since we are also a sinners who makes mistakes), it shows the basic concept of Law & Gospel discipline.  Unrepentant kid equals force, punishment, and stern faces. Repentant kid equals guidance, forgiveness, and warm expressions.

Repentant does not mean anything goes

This all said, repentant kids do not get a free pass.  Just because they can be forgiven, does not mean there are no worldly consequences.  Noah will sometime have to do other tasks or serve some “quiet time” in his room after such timeout episodes, even when repentant.  “[God] disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10) and asks those in the parental office to act out the Law to groom children in practical ways. This allows them to learn right from wrong and by understanding such worldly constructs they may, through the Holy Spirit, be brought to reconciliation in Christ.

Parents are sinners too

I’d be remiss if I did not state that we as parents often sin (even when trying to do the right thing for our kids), complicating the situation surrounding the application of Christ-centric Law & Gospel parenting.  We make parenting mistakes constantly.  Timeout does not always go as noted above.  We must adjust, but we can strive to stay in God’s Word, understand Law & Gospel, and apply such in our parental lives.

Through Law & Gospel, we reflect Christ

No wonder bookstores have entire sections of how-to books on parenting, all grasping for truth and all too often leaving out Biblical teaching like Law & Gospel.  Christian parents like us also look for answers when we get frustrated in our tired states after being up with a kid all night, get pulled upon as soon as walking in from a long day at work, or upon hearing a child be defiant.  However, when we repent of our sin and see Christ, we can act to our children in the same way as God did in Scripture through Him for us.  Through focused faith and study we can, for moments, be Law & Gospel parents who reflect Christ to our children.

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In this episode we talk about our considerations and thought processes with regard to picking a school for our kids. We factor in cost, need, ability to homeschool, and of course our reliance on Christ in making these important decisions.

Christ-Centered Parenting Series

Here’s a link to the series on Issues, Etc.

CPH Homeschooling Resource

Homeschooling resources from Concordia Publishing House

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Don’t substitute Christ with Veggies

VeggieTales, the lovable Christian cartoon, has for years been delighting kids and parents with their fun telling of Bible stories and tales emphasizing moral themes.  I bet you have shown at least a few episodes to your kids or maybe a well meaning family member gave your child a DVD as a gift.  Even as parents we laugh at the clever story lines and spoofs on popular culture (The Wonderful Wizard of Ha’sMinnesota Cuke and the Search for Noah’s UmbrellaLord of the Beans, etc.).  But did you notice something left out in my opening sentence of this article? I said, “for years been delighting kids and parents with their fun telling of Bible stories and tales emphasizing moral themes.” What is missing? Christ.

Christian kids programs should reference Christ

When we had our first boy and he reached the age where watching TV was appropriate, we naturally gravitated to VeggieTales.  We had friends who had their kids watch them, family had quickly got him DVDs, and we thought it was probably one of the more wholesome cartoons we could find.  How could they be anything but good for our kid. The makers are self professing Christians, many of the programs are actually Bible stories (albeit made kid friendly, i.e. dumbed down), and they teach good values to the kiddos.  However, as we watched them over, and over, and over, and over again (yes, kids love watching their favorites many times), I suppose I started to read into them some.  What was the real message inside the moral of the story?

The story we watched the most initially was Josh and the Big Wall, the VeggieTales version of the Fall of Jericho. The subtext to the video is “A Lesson in Obedience”. That should tip you off right there. While it does touch on the key points of the Bible account, in the end it seems to indicate Joshua & the Israelites doing stuff to allow God to do his work at Jericho. Not the other way around. But hey, this is an Old Testament “Law” driven story, right?  What if we let this one slide and look at one of their shows on Easter… Christ must make a clear appearance in that, right? No.

Twas the Night Before Easter was something we found on Netflix just this last Spring. I was skeptical from as watching Josh and the Big Wall (and a number of other episodes) which had left me questioning if VeggieTales ever took on the subject of Christ.  This was their most recent Easter program, and I figured it must have some Christ.  Unfortunately, even though they often made comments about “what Easter was really about” they never actually got to the point.  I remember watching it and waiting for them to finally get into Christ dying for us, but it never happened. Instead the moral you get is you are to help others and not be selfish (Law and no Gospel!). I only saw this once or twice, but I do not think Christ was mentioned at all… in a “Christian” program with the word “Easter” in it! Maybe we should be tipped off by the Easter bunny version of “Larry the Cucumber” on the cover.  Ugh.

What could be going wrong here

There seems to be one of or a collection of the following things happening with VeggieTales:

  1. Confusion over the distinction between Law and Gospel
  2. Purposeful emphasis on Law over Gospel, “since they are just kids” (if presuming kids aren’t at the Age of Accountability or the like)
  3. Profit over theology (VeggieTales is quite the marketing/money making powerhouse nowadays, walk into any Christian bookstore with a kids section for proof)
  4. Move away from VeggieTales Christian roots, perhaps related to #3 or “lack of content”
    • Some of the earlier programs, most of which I have not seen, seem like they may get better reviews on substance [unclear how much Christ involved though]. For instance, see this parent review.
    • Maybe all the “good” Bible stories are taken up? So let’s make some moral ones instead? Crazy talk, but maybe that is the thinking?
  5. These videos are not really meant to teach theology, they are just kid programs which at best are teaching morality.

If I was a betting man, I’d say my issues are a theological problem related to points #1 and #2.  But many people might be happy echoing point #5 about “these are just ‘good’ kid videos”. In any case, the warning to the parent will be the same.

No substitute for Cross-focus teaching

VeggieTales is a “Christian” oriented program, but that does not make it in any way a substitute for good Christ-centric teaching by parents, grandparents, and the Church. As discussed on Issues, Etc.’s series on Christ-Centric parenting, some parents seem to be willing to pass off the responsibilities of Christian teaching to anyone other than themselves (Christian schools, the Church, videos, etc.) rather then handle it themselves.  And while that is a topic for an another article, it needs to be mentioned when talking about Christian videos like VeggieTales.  This is especially true when the self-identified Christian program often (if not always in VeggieTalescase?) leaves out Christ.  Relaying too much on such programs will lead your children to a different Christianity than one which is Christ-centric in nature.

Does the McNary household still have VeggieTales DVDs, toys, and books around our home?  Yes, we do. However, our toddler has mostly moved onto Thomas and Diego.  Unlike his fading interest in VeggieTales, with the help of prayer and the Holy Spirit, we continue to teach him more and more about Christ’s sacrifice for all of us on the Cross.  Then, when we watch VeggieTales with our (now baby) twins, we’ll be sure to use them as tools to teach Bible stories and morals, with no illusions that they somehow teach Christ-crucified.

Note
VeggieTales was railed upon here, since it is a popular example often used by Christian parents.  Nevertheless, there are many Christian programs with any one of the problems denoted. Just keep this in prospective when watching, discussing, and trusting in the content of the videos you share with your little ones. Be an active Christian parent interested in the theology being taught! If unsure yourself, pray and let the Word guide you in teaching your kids.

 

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Post image for New “Fatherhood” Bible Study Available from Lutheran Hour MinistriesThe folks over at Lutheran Hour Ministries (LHM) and their Men’s Network have released a new DVD Bible study series called “Fatherhood” hosted by Joel Biermann, faculty at Concordia Seminary – St. Louis.  Here is a quick summary from their page:

“Fatherhood is more than providing half the genetic material at conception; it’s being there for the long haul. In Fatherhood with Joel Biermann the Concordia Seminary professor and dad relates how being a father is a demanding pursuit with a heavenly goal-raising kids who know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.”

Sounds pretty Christ-centric to me.  I have not watched all of the videos or seen all the printed materials yet, but I’ve used and taken part in LHM’s Men’s Network studies in the past, and they have been good.  They tend to mix “practical” with Scriptural discussion (many good Bible references). The practical sometimes obscures direct talk of Christ (per a quick review, talk of Gospel does not appear until video #3), but the studies do get back to Him and are useful in their own way.  Due to this, I think they may be better for existing Christians over witness. (FYI- In my quick review, videos/studies #3 [Sin/Christ] and #4 [Family devotion/prayer ideas] seem to be the most meaty.)

Dr. Biermann is an accessible speaker who does not come off high in the “ivory towers”, but he knows his stuff (listen to his iTunes U.’s “Christian Doctrine” class [iTunes link] which first introduced me to him & is a good basic systematics overview – for free!)

To checkout this resource you’ll need to sign-up for a free Men’s Network account. Then you can watch, read, and download the materials for free. You can also order a DVD (with comes with the materials). We’ll look into this further and try to share any feedback we have or receive on the use of this study.

Us parents can use all the help we can get in this secular world, fathers maybe more than mothers. With the blessing of the Holy Spirit, we pray this study can help dads (and moms) better understand their vocation as teachers of Christ-crucified to their children.

Information (text)
Teaser Video
Study Material (login required, free sign-up)

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Christ-Centered Parenting Series

Here’s a link to the series on Issues, Etc.

CPH Resource

Sing the Faith from Concordia Publishing House

Call for Help

Josh and I were really shooting in the dark with regards to passing the faith on to teenage children on up. If you have any comments, tips, or resource, please share them with us in the comment section. We’d love to hear about your experiences!

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As you may have heard on Episode #2 if The Parental Office podcast, my wife & I have been trying to include our oldest boy (almost 3 years old) in more and more Church sponsored and formed devotional activities. Vacation Bible Schools around the country are currently underway and my Church’s is next week (still time to sign up if you are in Eastern Iowa).  We are planning to include our toddler all five days… but is he ready or able and should he attend?

Over at Steadfast Lutherans, they had a post yesterday noting one Church’s liturgical-based VBS program (interesting read in and of itself), in which they stated they have stopped doing VBS for the youngest children:

“We have also cut out some classes for the youngest children and that has helped bring a spirit of calm as well. “

Later in a comment there is some clarification:

“Yes, we no longer have classes for the 3-year-olds. We found it counter-productive to the idea of Vacation Bible SCHOOL to have children coming in who hadn’t even been to preschool yet. Also, there is a group of folks in our area who like to use the churches’ VBS programs for summer day care – particularly for their littles.”

My wife (see her devotional site for women) actually picked up on this thread and commented:

“My oldest is almost 3 years old and I’m trying to work with him on the readings and songs before we go to VBS next week – so he can hopefully focus more on learning and less on the new experience.”

And finally another comment states:

“At our church we do accept 3 year old VBS students. They do hear and learn the Bible stories, and we think that that is great. Often their families start bringing them for daycare, more or less, but bring them back year after year and they learn more and more about the faith that way.”

I suppose I am with my wife on this one at this point; let’s try it and attempt to expose the Word & faith in Christ’s saving work every way we can, even when young.  Plus a little “preparing” the little guys is good for them and us to better understand what serious stuff is being taught between the fun and games at VBS.

The flip side is, as I suggested in the podcast this week, are we overdoing it? By doing so are we really in fact just showing our faithlessness in a God who bestows grace on us and our children through Christ? Or are we doing exactly what we were commanded to do by Scriptures in our Parental Office?  Where do we draw the line between Law (action) and Gospel (faith) in such cases?

wos” component, though.

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