The Best Christmas Gift of All

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I wonder what Mary was thinking about along the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

In her last month of pregnancy, Mary spent over a week on the back of a donkey as she and Joseph journeyed the 80 miles to Joseph’s homeland to register for the census.

You’d think that Cesar might cut the girl a break and let them mail in their registration. But, no.

Eighty miles on an unpaved, primitive road riding on a donkey!

So often we think of Mary as a woman having a child. But, she was little more than a child herself, around 13. If a 13-year-old gets pregnant these days, it’s scandal. For Mary, the only scandal she faced was her swollen abdomen before the marriage was sealed. That’s a pretty big “only.” The man she had vowed to be faithful to for the rest of her life could have stoned her to death.

“But before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.”

Mary often gets all the credit, and let’s face it, she should. If you’ve birthed a child, you know it’s about the hardest thing a woman can do. But, Joseph is kind of a hero here too. He must have been so angry and hurt and confused and dejected. The hours in between finding out his future wife is pregnant and a visit from an angel must have been agonizing.

“Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”

He was going to divorce her quietly. He finally decided. He would spare her life, and write her out of his. I wonder what he was doing before the angel came to him in a dream. Was he still nursing his wounded ego, or had he thrown himself into his work?

“When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.”

What a guy. What faith it took to believe something so outlandish. Pregnant by the Holy Spirit. It had to have been the craziest thing Joseph had ever heard. But, he took her home, only to find out he had to take her, eight months pregnant, 80 miles away to Bethlehem.

I wonder if the trip was awkward at first. “So, thanks for not stoning me…” Did they talk about parenting philosophies or discipline methods? They didn’t have to think of what to call him. “His name shall be Jesus.”

Eighty miles on foot. Under the best conditions they could cover 20 miles in a day. But so many things could have slowed them down – weather, terrain, pregnancy. It likely took them over a week.

What was Mary thinking about this whole time? She accepted the angel’s message without hesitation. “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered, “May it be to me as you have said.” Was there ever any doubts in her mind? Was she scared?

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born.”

A 13-year-old girl stood in a stranger’s stable, about to give birth to the Savior of the world. With every pang of birth pains, she knew there was no going back. Did she want to? Was she ready?

“She gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger.”

Was it one of those fast, easy births I’ve heard rumors of? Or did she labor for hours? Ever since becoming a mother myself, I’ve wondered about the details of Jesus’s birth. How did Mary feel about birthing her Savior in a barn? As she looked at her son for the first time, was she instantly captivated by him? Or, did it take a while for the bonding process like with some mothers and children?

There are so many unknowns about the birth of Jesus, so many details I hope I’ll hear about in Heaven someday. But, there are some things we do know — important things. “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Do you need to hear that again? He will save His people from their sins. From your sins. From my sins.

My friends, He did what He came to do. It is finished. You have been saved from your sins.

The love of Jesus is unconditional. He gives it freely. You don’t have to earn it. You don’t have to be “good enough.” You, in whatever varying state of sin you find yourself in, are loved.

Praise the Lord!

Just as you are. Just where you are. He’s waiting for you to turn your eyes and look full in His wonderful face. He’s waiting for you to accept the gift He’s been holding out to you. Take it. Don’t be shy. Accept His love. Accept His sacrifice. Accept your Savior.

Today, as you unwrap presents, fellowship with friends and family, and partake of the bounty of blessings you might have, do so with the full knowledge that your Savior came to this earth for you. He was born so that you can live forever with Him. Your heart is the most precious gift you can give to Him. Won’t you give yourself to Him today?

**To read the story of Jesus’s birth for yourself, look in the book of Luke, chapters one and two. You’ll also find stories from Jesus’s life and ministry on Earth, as well as His ultimate sacrifice on the cross. The Bible is available for free online and in the app market for smart phones.**

(This is an encore blog post. It was originally written and posted by Cas Anderson on December 25, 2013.)

Easy Quiet Book for Little Ones

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If you’ve ever had a very active toddler like I do, I’m sure you’ve wondered many times what you can do to keep them busy. When my firstborn son was little, my mother lovingly sewed him a quiet book for church. It was beautiful and he loved it! Sadly I was not gifted with the sewing gene, and my mother has since passed on. So, I pondered as to how I could make something for our newest little girl! While I may not be able to sew well or at all, I can laminate like there is no tomorrow!!

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When my older children were younger, I made tons of laminated file folder games for them. There are so many free file folder games online that you can just print out and laminate! Did I mention I LOVE laminating!! So I thought, “Why not make a laminated quiet book!” How easy is that! I dug through my extensive collection of file folder games and also searched for new free ones online. Then I printed, laminated, and cut out the game pieces.

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Next was to find a three-ring binder that was just the right size. I went with a 1″ binder and made a pretty cover for it. Then I affixed magnets onto the laminated game boards, where the pieces would go, and slid them into sheet protectors. I did this so that she wouldn’t be tempted to pull the magnets off. I cut apart business card magnets for the game boards and the pieces. After that I separated out the game pieces into individual ziplock bags and stored them in a three-ring pencil case.

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I love the flexibility of this quiet book because I can make up multiple activities, store them in my file cabinet, and change them out. The possibilities are endless! You can make one that is spiritually centered for church, and one that is early learning based, or combine them together. My three-year-old loves hers. I have even thought about making some activities that are seasonally themed also!

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Below is the link to my Pinterest board with tons of free File Folder Game Printables!!

File Folder Games – Pinterest

The laminator I have used for years is the Duck Electric Laminator. I originally purchased it at Walmart for $25, but they no longer carry this brand. There are many that are comparable in price and quality though. I love my laminator, and it was one of my best homeschool purchases!

 

Musings of a Christian Homeschool Mom at Kilauea

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On a tour of Kilauea’s visitor center on the Big Island of Hawaii, my kids could not miss the dramatic artwork crediting the goddess Pele with Creation, 70 million years ago.

As a Christian who believes in a short earth history and intelligent design, I’ve long since learned to overlook references to long ages and macro-evolution. But, now I’m homeschooling my children, and their inquiries about Pele demanded an answer.

It’s possible to give a short “don’t touch!” answer to these questions. Or, we can find the fallacies within the system of paganism and point them out. We can cut through the intrigue and romanticism and nip those seemingly magnetic forces in the bud. This was the route my husband and I chose, and here are some of the ways we explained the attraction of Pele to our middle school/junior high-aged children:

  • Hawaii’s pre-Christian culture was polytheistic, and Pele was revered as the fire goddess who even today continues to “create” through powerful, awe-inspiring — and deadly — forces beyond man’s control. Indeed, Kilauea adds 40 acres of coastline to Hawaii each year. And yet, Pele’s barren landscape carries none of the fertility of God’s original creation, at least until many, many years pass and seeds sprout in some crevice amongst the black rock.The old pagan religion was abolished in 1819 on Hawaii’s islands, yet Pele’s popularity is experiencing a revival. Perhaps part of the allure is that this volcano started erupting in 1983 and is still going strong — the longest recorded volcanic eruption in history. It also has been erupting almost continuously according to oral and written history. Kilauea is Hawaii’s youngest and most active shield volcano, and research at this site has yielded much scientific knowledge regarding volcanic activity.
  • Even as volcanic activity has increased in the last 200 years, paganism has reemerged as a world religion, and geology has always been entwined with pagan ideology. The late, renowned Stephen Jay Gould admitted in his book, Time’s Arrow, Time’s Cycle, that pagan philosophy influenced the development of evolutionary theory far more than the rocks in the field; in fact, the pagan concepts of deep, cyclical time preceded field observations.
  • To put this in plain language: Cyclical, deep time is pagan, while the Judeo-Christian version of time can be pictured as an arrow moving forward, with a definite beginning and looking forward to a definite end. The reason for this may be found in the Bible: There is a political contest for control over earth, and this contest had a beginning…and there will be an end. Our earth is the one and only spot in the entire universe with a ball and chain called “time.” Eternity is the rule of every other place in the universe. Therefore, “time” and “death” are essentially synonymous. With time and death come a “beginning” and an “end.”
  • Christians understand that God had a plan to redeem this planet from Satan’s control after Adam’s fall (see the original prophecy in Genesis 3:15 — a contest of “seeds”). Christians understand that eternity may be grasped through accepting Jesus as our Creator, our Sacrifice, and our Redeemer. And, at the end of this earth’s proverbial time arrow, Jesus himself will put an end to death. He will put an end to time’s arrow, and replace it with the gift of eternity.
  • Pagans, on the other hand, are ignoring God’s plan of redemption; they deny the need. Paganism has accepted a false creator, a false savior, and a false redeemer. Paganism ignores God’s judgment on this earth and says there is “no need for God. Eternity may be grasped here and now; heaven is here and now. Time is of no consequence; death is of no consequence. Time is a cycle ever-repeating.”
  • As we toured the visitor’s center at Kilauea, the volcano’s power of destruction was showcased. The combination of fears — of the unknown, the supernatural, and death — with the mythology of Pele invoked an overwhelming sense of awe. Perhaps we can better understand why the Bible says, “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. For through me your days will be many, and years will be added to your life. If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you; if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer,” Proverbs 9:10-12.
  • This mockery is mentioned in 2 Peter 3:3-7: “In the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this coming he promised?’…. But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.”
  • God as our Creator and our Judge, Who also wields the power to create and to destroy, is a key theme to wisdom. The truths of the Bible match up with a short-earth chronology. They match up with a Designer rather than chance. The mythology of the world cannot compare to the straight line of truth found in God’s word. When compared, one can see how the same stories of history (Cain & Abel, Noah’s Ark, the Tower of Babel) are found within myths, but they have been twisted by pagan ideology. Paganism is simply a copycat with no real power to create or to destroy permanently, as the living God of Heaven will soon destroy the earth’s ball and chain of death and time.

Touring national parks is an amazing way to spend time learning about God’s creation and about the history of an area or culture, yet these parks are steeped in a secular background. Understanding the language of paganism and the fallacies within can help us fend off the attraction of the mysterious for our children. It’s not truly mysterious at all; the real mystery is how God entered the political contest for earth’s kingship, and that He is preparing to return for His citizens. Time is an arrow…and we’re at the pointed end.

 

Bible for Our Little Learners: More Than Just Another Subject

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I am someone who has always liked school. I was THAT kid. You know, the one who went home upset because I didn’t have any homework. I used to beg my mom (who was a teacher) to bring home old or unused workbooks so I could create my own homework. Yes, I realize that’s not normal, but I’ve always LOVED learning. That being said, all throughout grade school there was one subject I dreaded. It was…Bible class. Don’t get me wrong, I longed to know more about God’s word and his precious stories. I longed to understand Him more. I don’t know if it was because I wasn’t an auditory learner, and most of the time Bible stories were simply read out loud in class. Maybe it was because coloring angels was fun but didn’t really teach me anything about the Bible. It could have been because the stories were so old I had a hard time following them or noticing their correlation to my own life. No matter the reason, I certainly felt like Bible was one of those subjects where you grit your teeth, get through, and are glad when you finally get it done.

As I examine Bible teaching for my own children, it probably goes without saying that I want more for them. Through my years working with children, I find that often Bible is regarded as important to parents, but it is presented in a way that is so far removed from reality that it’s difficult for young children to make the connection, for them to realize that these stories are true, that they are real, that they mean something for them personally, and that they teach us about the greatest friend we could ever ask for: Jesus.

Then one day it dawned on me: Bible isn’t just another subject. It must be the cornerstone of early childhood education!

The good news from an education perspective is that it’s one less subject to check off the list. The bad news is that we can’t just check it off the list. However, this too can be a blessing, as making Bible the cornerstone can transform your life in ways you never could have imagined.

So, if Bible isn’t a subject, what do we do? How does it work? I’m glad you asked. (OK, so I realize I actually asked, but we’ll just go with it.) The first and most important key is to study the Bible with your child. I don’t mean cracking open your Bible with your three-year-old and highlighting verses together. I mean studying deeply for yourself the things that you are reading and sharing with your little one. If you are studying the story of Jesus being tempted in the desert, read it for yourself during your own quiet time with the Lord. Pray through the passages. Ask God what He wants you to learn. The truth is that we cannot share with our children what we don’t have ourselves. If we aren’t growing in our own relationship with God and seeking to learn more of His word every day, how can we ask that of our children?

After you have made a priority of studying with your child, you have to figure out what to do with the time you are actually sharing and teaching your little one. For older children who can read and write, this will look very different than for a young learner with a short attention span. Yet, the same four principles I like to use with older kids and in my own Bible study work super well with our preschoolers through 2nd-grade students: Review, Study, Apply, and Memorize.

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Review

When I’m working with older kids, I use review as a way to make sure the story didn’t go in one ear and out the other. However, for younger kids it’s more about interacting with the story. So much of the Bible is brand new to them. Stories that you have heard a million times are fresh to their little minds. Helping them experience them in many ways is fascinating and exciting. Think about the way your children learn, and present the stories in their language. My boys are very visual and tactile. For us, felts are the way to go. They love seeing the story in vivid colors, and then they practice acting it out on their own with the felts. You can use story books, toy figures, charades, audio Bibles, videos, etc. There are so many resources available, chances are there is something out there that will help your child get excited about the story.

Study

Again, for an older child Bible study might consist of digging deeper into the passages, using cross references, pulling out a concordance, or using a highlighter. Obviously that’s not what we are talking about here. For little kids, studying has to do with understanding this world of the Bible that they’ve never encountered. One good thing about little kids is that they are full of questions. Feel free to entertain their questions, and don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know the answer — you can even hunt it down together. (Hint: Keeping a Bible atlas with lots of pictures or a book with lots of pictures of Old and New Testament customs can be a huge help here as well.)

I have two boys, ages two and five. Recently we were studying the story of Jesus being tempted in the desert. As we acted out the story with felts, they boys were loaded with questions. Why was Jesus hungry? Why was Satan mean? Wasn’t Satan being nice offering Jesus these things? As I left the felt board out and the boys visited it throughout the week, they left with a new question each time. Watching their wheels turn and giving them the space to work out hard questions is an important part of Bible study, and with little children it happens in a much more sporadic and natural way.

Apply

Application is where things get really fun for the little ones. Sometimes it can be hard, but this is also where spending your own time studying what you are teaching your kids produces much fruit. After telling the story of Jesus’ temptation for the first time, we talked about temptations we might have. Then, we practiced telling Satan to “GO AWAY” just like Jesus told Him to. This was also a great time for us to talk about how Jesus used scripture when he needed help, and we talked about times that knowing memory verses has helped us. My oldest has used passages to soothe him back to sleep many a time when he has had nightmares.

Keep in mind, these conversations didn’t happen all in one setting, but over the course of the week as the boys were interacting with the story more, and as I was learning things in my own time with God. In fact, there was one time during this particular week when I was really struggling with a grumpy attitude. Satan was tempting me to give in and let grumpiness take over, but I remembered Jesus’ temptations and I wanted to say “NO” with him.  I shared with my kids, at their level, what I was feeling, and I asked them to pray with me that Jesus would give me his strength to say “NO” to Satan just like He did. My kids were happy to pray with me, and they kept practicing saying no to temptation with me all day.

Application is going to look very different week to week, and there is no formula, but if You are seeking God, He will show you the most awesome ways that the scriptures are real for you AND your kids.

Memorize

The last piece of the puzzle is to memorize scripture. Young children are sponges and they memorize things easily. Playing scripture songs as I go about my day is all that’s needed for my two-year-old to be belting out, “Do to others, do to others, what you would have them do to yoouuuuuu!!” And, this is important and so precious to treasure, yet it is easy for us to get excited about the memorization alone without any meaning. As you learn a verse together with your child (for our family, we find reciting it together at mealtimes is a big help), help them understand what it means and why it’s important to learn.

Our verse for studying about the temptation was Matthew 4:10, “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go Satan! For it is written, you shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.” You can see from my example above that this is something we put into practice many a time. We also talked about how God’s Word is powerful, and just like Jesus, we can use it in times of trouble. The week following that one, we were learning about Jesus calling his disciples and performing his first miracle at the wedding feast. Our verse was, “His mother said to the servants, ‘Whatever He says to you, do it.’” We talked about Jesus calling us to be His disciples, and that part of being a disciple is doing the very thing Jesus’ mother told the servants to do — whatever Jesus tells us. Every time we review the verse we talk a little bit more about what it means, and this gives us an opportunity to expand our application.

With this method of Bible study, you don’t have to have a fancy Bible curriculum or lots of tools, but studying the Bible can be overwhelming, and it’s hard to know where to start sometimes. If you are looking for a guide or Bible storybook or anything to help bring the Bible alive for your little learner, the Bible curriculum resources on SDA Homeschool Families might be a good place to start.

A caution about crafts and “busy work”

Before I wrap up I want to share one caution or something to consider when it comes to teaching Bible to early learners. Children need hooks. It’s easy to read Bible stories and color a picture or make a fun craft, and those things aren’t bad, but don’t let them be busy work. If you are coloring Bible pictures, put them together in a book with a three-ring binder. Let them be your child’s own Bible Storybook. Talk about the picture, maybe even write your memory verse on the page to help you remember. If you make a fun craft project, hang it where you can see and talk about how it relates to the story and what truth it can remind you of. Let these mementos be hooks and ways to help our children relate to the wonderful messages of the Bible in more real and broad ways.

So what do you think? Do you want to make the change? What do you think about seeing Bible as more than another subject for your littlest learners?

Why Adventist Families Homeschool

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There are many reasons why families choose to homeschool their children. Adventist families are no exception, and include some reasons that are unique to them and their belief system. These families take to heart scripture found in Deuteronomy 11 which says, “So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today — to love the Lord your God and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul. Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

Adventist parents believe that God has called them to be the primary teachers of their children, instructing them in the ways of God and according to His counsel from scripture and from the admonition of his servant, Ellen White. In her inspired writings in the Spirit of Prophecy she offers a wealth of information on the subject of education. She says that “the mother should be the teacher, and home the school where every child receives his first lessons” (Fundamentals of Christian Education, pg. 416).

In addition to the above counsel, there are many specific reasons why Adventist families are choosing to home educate their children.

  • They believe that the primary purpose of education is to help a child develop a godly character and to learn to live morally. Academics and the development of intellect rate high, but are secondary to that cause, and they believe that homeschooling can help them accomplish these goals. A Biblical approach to education can help students in character and moral development.
  • They believe that homeschooling allows them to follow the counsel of Ellen White regarding methods and timing of instruction. Delayed education is encouraged, and nature is regarded as an important tool in early education. Such counsel includes advice that children be allowed to be free as lambs until they are eight or ten years of age, and that nature should be their only textbook until then (Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 3, page 137).  In another place she declares that “the only classroom for children from eight to ten years of age should be the open air, amid the opening flowers and nature’s beautiful scenery. And their only textbook should be the treasures of nature. These lessons, imprinted upon the minds of young children amid the pleasant, attractive scenes of nature, will not be soon forgotten” (Christian Education, page 8).  Ellen White believed strongly that the early years of a child’s growth was vitally important and should be handled in specific ways. In Education she’s quoted as saying that “children should not be long confined within doors, nor should they be required to apply themselves closely to study until a good foundation has been laid for physical development. For the first eight or ten years of a child’s life the field or garden is the best schoolroom, the mother is the best teacher, nature is the best lesson book. Even when the child is old enough to attend school, his health should be regarded as of greater importance than a knowledge of books. He should be surrounded with the conditions most favorable to both physical and mental growth” (Education, pages 207-208).  Many Adventist parents believe that homeschooling is the best way that this can be accomplished. Additionally, Spirit of Prophecy counsel regarding service and work can be incorporated into the Adventist homeschool curriculum.
  • They believe that they as parents can give their child a superior education at home. By homeschooling, they believe they can tailor-make an individual educational plan that best meets their child’s needs.
  • They believe that the learning environment in a traditional school is poor due to a variety of reasons like high teacher to student ratios, classroom interruptions, and the fact that many times classroom teachers have to teach to the needs of the average student rather than to those who excel or who are delayed learners.
  • They believe that homeschooling better fits into their family needs and lifestyles. It can allow them to travel or to function based on family vacation schedules. It provides freedom for the family in many ways when an traditional academic calendar does not need to be followed. Families involved in ministry or missions find this to be especially true.
  • They object to some of what is taught in traditional schools. Subjects like evolution vs. creation do not have to be dealt with in a homeschool until the parent believes the child is mature enough to be introduced to an alternative view. Then, they believe it should be taught in specific ways that do not interfere with Christian belief. The seventh-day Sabbath is another unique concept to Adventists, and homeschooling offers a clear path for instruction in this regard. Religious education can be taught in keeping with belief system. Subjects that may be introduced at a young age in traditional school, like sex education and alternative lifestyles, can be introduced in what parents believe is more age-appropriate. Homeschooling also gives opportunity for Adventist parents to teach history from the perspective of the Great Controversy as outlined in prophecy. Although this perspective can also be taught in church schools, homeschooling gives the parent time to inculcate this perspective in a deep and lasting way, partially due to the generous amount of time they are able to spend with their children.
  • They believe that homeschooling can combat student boredom. This stems from the fact that they believe traditional school does not challenge their children and creates unmotivated students.
  • They choose to homeschool because of their belief that traditional school’s are rife with student behavior problems. By homeschooling they attempt to avoid discipline problems and modeling by other students of behaviors that do not meet the parental standard.
  • They believe that children with learning disabilities or special needs are best confronted by the parent in a home situation where the curriculum, learning techniques, and therapeutic techniques can be crafted specifically for their child and his or her unique needs in a relaxed manner that follows the pace of the child.

Instructing children in the Adventist homeschool can bring joy and delight to family life! Freedom to choose according to faith, lifestyle, and resources helps in the creation of a tailor-made curriculum for each child. Enjoying the blessing of homeschooling is embraced by many Adventist families as a mode of education that best fits the plan that God has outlined for them.