The Jesse Tree and Other Advent Resources

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Many families mark the days of advent with a traditional advent calendar, opening a tiny door for each day leading up to Christmas. Our family advent tradition, the Jesse Tree, focuses on tracing the storyline of God’s family from Creation to Cross.

We all have a family tree–branches filled with mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. The Jesse Tree is a way we remember God’s family line and our own place in it. As Christian parents, we remember our adoption into God’s family by his grace. As we teach our children, we pray that God will include them in this family by giving them living faith.

What is a Jesse Tree?

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In our home, it is a tiny one and a half foot discount store Christmas tree. On it, we hang a laminated paper ornament for each day of Advent. Each ornament on the tree represents the story of a person in Jesus’ family tree. In Isaiah 11:1 we read, “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” Jesse was the father of David, Israel’s greatest king. And it was from David’s lineage that Jesus came. That’s where the idea of using a Jesse Tree to celebrate Advent came from. Before a symbol is hung on the tree, a Bible passage or a story from a story Bible is read. This is the story of God’s family, the story of the Christian family. As we read his Word, we remember that Jesus came for his family. Jesus comes to us, and he will come again. Come Lord Jesus. I've worked on a Jesse Tree project guide with the Arts ministry at our church, Sojourn Community Church--Midtown in Louisville, KY. It includes sample symbols by artist Tim Mobley, beautiful cover art by Elise Welsh,  instructions for how to make Jesse Tree ornaments, and family devotions based on the Jesse Tree.

Other Advent Resources

Over the years, we've used several different devotionals with our Jesse Tree. We've found the following resources to be particularly helpful:

  • Sam Luce has posted about how there are 24 Old Testament stories in the Jesus Storybook Bible that lead up to the birth of Christ. One year, we chose to read one of these each night as we put up our Jesse Tree ornaments.

  • Another helpful resource is Ann Voskamp’s book, Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, which was designed for use with a Jesse Tree.

  • My friend Scott James has written a children's book entitled, The Littlest Watchman, which tells the story of a boy named Benjamin who watches for the fulfillment of the "root from Jesse" prophecy. The Good Book Company has created an accompanying Advent calendar and devotional that includes instructions for making your own Jesse Tree.

  • We have also used Marty Machowski's devotional Prepare Him Room, which unpacks one Old Testament prophecy about Christ's coming during each week of Advent. The devotional has an accompanying 4-week children's ministry curriculum that our church has used during Advent season with our church as well.

  • Finally, you might consider these Bible memory ornaments from She Reads Truth, which provide Scripture memory passages for each day of Advent.

Have you ever used a Jesse Tree in your home? If so, what tips have you found to be helpful?

Book Review: Fierce Marriage by Ryan and Selena Frederick

I try to read a book on marriage or parenting at least once each year. This year, the book I've chosen is Fierce Marriage: Radically Pursuing Each Other in Light of Christ's Relentless Love by Ryan and Selena Frederick (fiercemarriage.com). I’ve been encouraged and challenged by this book, and I was happy to be a part of their social media launch team. Overall, I'll tell you that this husband and wife duo will positively impact your marriage. Here's my thoughts on the book.

What I Loved

This book tackled many of the same topics most good Christian marriage books do. The difference in my opinion is that the Fredericks gave a more balanced perspective on those topics by writing together. Upwards of forty percent of the book is dedicated to telling stories. While I know this is helpful for some, this isn't my preference. By the midway point of the book, I found myself simply skimming the stories. Having said this, the meat of the book easily overcomes this weakness. The Frederick's use of Scripture was spot on, and their explanations are easy to understand and readily applicable. Chapter 6, the chapter on communication, was worth the price of the book. This chapter pointed repeatedly to the truth that communication problems are first and foremost matters of the heart, that is issues of pride. Then, the Fredericks went on to give very practical application points for fighting pride in the midst of regular marital communication. Most importantly, Fierce Marriage consistently points the reader back to their need to focus on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The book shows us our need for this individually and as a couple.

How I Plan on Using This Book

I plan on recommending this book to newly married couples, couples who may or may not have had pre-marital counseling, but may be struggling to grow in their relationship. This book is another faithful guide for marriage, one of life’s most pivotal decisions, since it addresses everything from expectations to handling conflict while staying focused on the gospel.

I recommend this book to you as well. Whether you’ve been married six months or more than sixty years, this book will help you love your Lord and spouse better. Get it as soon as possible and be edified.

Family Friday Links 12.22.17

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Here’s the “Christmas edition” of Family Friday Links:

Brittany Salmon had a post on TGC blog about celebrating Christmas in the midst of suffering. She writes, “It’s easy to be thankful when God ordains seasons of joy and plenty, but it was an ugly fight for gratitude when he ordained suffering.” She goes on discuss sentimentality verses fixating on what really matters. This is a helpful post for those who find this time of year hard.

Thom Rainer had a post about mistakes churches make at Christmas. His list consists of 10 mistakes (… probably the top 10). Ministry leaders and pastors would do well to consider this list.

For the Church had a series of 3 posts (here, here, and here) about the necessity of a theological library. I share this here for 2 reasons: 1) Every believing family would do well to have access to this kind of resources. 2) If you’re still looking for a gift for that hard to shop for person on your list …

What have you been reading online lately? Leave us a link in the comment section for us to check out.

Family Friday Links 8.25.17 #Charlottesville

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We've taken a few weeks away from Family Friday Links (Everyone needs a rest!), but I'm pressing back in this evening with a themed version. Two weeks ago, violence erupted in Charlottesville, VA after one of the largest white nationalist rallies in a decade. One young woman was killed when a car was driven into a crowd of protesters.  In the days that followed a number of articles appeared geared toward helping parents to talk with their kids about the evils of racism and white nationalism. I'm saving what I believe to be the best of those articles here for all of us to refer back to as our kids continue to process the news.

It's particularly important that kids and youth hear their pastors standing against injustice and oppression. I'm particularly thankful for this statement from Manhattan pastor John Starke. John writes, "Likely, none of us would identify as a white supremacists or a racist. And that may give us some relief, that we can distance ourselves from this problem as 'over there' and not have to think about it at all. Here are three reasons why we may not be able to do that..."

One of the first articles I noticed was this LA Times piece, "How to talk to your kids about the violence in Charlottesville" by Sonali Kohli. She gives nine helpful tips for helping your kids process the news. Two of the best are to turn the TV off, and process what is happening in light of its historical context. Kohli interviews one mom who says, "I didn’t think today was going to be a day of ... history lessons, but it was...” then went on to tell her children why the rally was happening — "she explained who Robert E. Lee was, what the Confederacy was and why people were fighting about it."

Speaking of the importance of educating the next generation, Sally Lloyd-Jones pointed to this this article by Maria Russo, children's book editor at the New York Times. She writes, "Given the language and images many children heard and saw in news reports about the violent protests in Charlottesville, Va. over the weekend, these children’s books about people — including kids — who helped in the fight against Nazis and against racism here in the U.S. may prove... inspiring." 

Dr. Brent Bounds points us to gospel hope in the midst of racism in his article "Children, Race, and the Gospel" at The Gospel Coalition site. Brent writes, "There is real hope for change in our culture’s struggle with racism. The greatest potential doesn’t rest in the hands of politicians and activists, however, but in the hearts of our own children."

Finally, Patrick pointed to me to this call to prayer from Matt Guevara at the International Network of Children's Ministers. Matt writes, "Talk to your children about Charlottesville, but don’t stop there. Talk to God with them. Do it every day and with passion and purpose."

After the events in Charlottesville, what articles did you find to be helpful? Share with us in the comment section below.