As Christians, we often neglect to teach our children about the Jewish holidays found in the Old Testament. Although, we are no longer required to celebrate them as Christians, they do have lessons our children can learn from their purposes and how they pointed the Israelites to the coming Messiah, Jesus.
Passover is perhaps the most obvious Jewish holiday with connections to Christianity. Originally meant to help the Israelites remember each year how God rescued them from slavery in Egypt, the communion service echoes the original Passover feast (the modern Passover meal is more complicated than the one the Israelites ate right before they fled from Egypt). (Make sure you have all of the ingredients you will need before starting the devotional.)
Read or tell your children the story of the first Passover found in Exodus 12. If your children are older, you may also want to read them the story of the Last Supper found in Luke 22:7-38. Ask them the similarities they see between the food in the first Passover and the food Jesus used to institute our communion. Point out that both involved unleavened bread.
Take your children into the kitchen. Mix together 2 cups flour (whole wheat is most authentic, but you can use white flour if you prefer), 3/4 cup water, 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt. Divide the dough. Have your children knead it and then make flat, unleavened bread ”loaves”. Bake at 450* (260* C) for ten minutes.
Want to add another interesting element to your bread making? Somewhere along the line, rabbis determined there had to be a time limit on the making of unleavened bread. This is because plain flour and water can begin to have a minor leavening effect without yeast after eighteen minutes. Although this was never commanded by God, today observant Jews time from the moment the ingredients are first mixed until the finished bread is removed from the oven. The entire process must take less than eighteen minutes or it is no longer considered unleavened bread. (For older children and teens, this can be the basis of a discussion about the added burdens the Pharisees placed on the people by the time of Jesus and how we must be careful to not do the same.)
For younger children, you may want to explore why the Israelites needed to make unleavened bread instead of ”regular” bread as they were rushing to leave Egypt. Start a recipe of leavened bread at the same time you start your unleavened bread. Choose a recipe that requires the dough to rise twice before baking. Point out that God knew the Egyptians would chase them, so they needed to be ready to leave – and leave quickly- when it was time. Had they waited for bread to rise, it would have slowed them down too much, or they would have left hungry.
As you enjoy your freshly baked bread, discuss what God wants us to remember during communion and compare it to what the Israelites were supposed to remember each year at Passover.
“He made me do it!” “It’s not my fault!” “I didn’t have a choice!” Blaming others when bad things happen – especially things that can get one in trouble – is a game that is often learned in childhood. Mind you, it’s not a game that’s taught, like Monopoly, but is learned either by observing others or by accident. If not addressed early, it can become a habit, that when bad enough can cause a separation from God.
The problem with playing the blame game is that it encourages lying and can eventually help the blame shifter develop a victim mindset. It can also lead to blame shifters refusing to repent – because in their minds, no sin is ever their fault. Even if the issue in question is fully the fault of another person, choosing to focus on blaming instead of working to correct the issue can cause the blame shifter to get stuck – never forgiving or moving on. Over time, a victim mindset can leave people stuck in an incident from years past, angry, bitter and any spiritual, emotional or other types of growth hampered because of the amount of time and effort spent ruminating on the past.
So how can you help your children learn to accept responsibility for whatever their part was in a negative situation, while also forgiving those who may have shared the blame (or even been truly totally to blame)? There is a family devotional you can do to launch periodic discussions about blaming others.
Gather your children and tell them the story of King Saul playing the blame game, found in 1 Samuel 13. King Saul wanted to celebrate his army’s victory over the enemy. As part of the celebration, he actually wanted to do something good – thank God with a sacrifice. The Law, however, stated that only a priest like Samuel could actually perform the sacrifice. So Saul waited for Samuel to appear.
Days went by with no sign of Samuel. Finally, King Saul got tired of waiting and did the sacrifice himself. Literally, just as he finished the sacrifice, Samuel finally arrived. Samuel was furious that King Saul had so blatantly broken God’s Law about sacrificing. When he confronted Saul, what did the king do? Blamed everyone else of course!
Now King Saul was not the first, nor the last person to try and blame others for their poor choices or sins. Adam and Eve were the first and people will probably still be trying to blame others for their poor choices until Jesus returns. Notice though how severe the punishment was for Saul’s disobedience. The Kingdom would not be ruled by his family in the future, but by another family. The Bible doesn’t tell us, but one cannot help but wonder if things would have ended differently if King Saul had at least accepted full blame for his sin and repented.
Point out to your children the probable lie in King Saul’s blame game attempt. Saul was king – a king who had successfully led them to victory. Why wouldn’t they wait for Samuel if Saul asked (or told) them to do so? Also note that although it might look like Saul took some responsibility for what happened, notice how it is phrased – “I felt compelled to do so”. Point out that what Saul said is very similar to when we say somebody “made us” do something. Explain that in any situation, we have a choice. We might not like the possible consequences of either option, but there is always a godly option. Even, if like many first century Christians, we find that making the choice to obey God ends up in a bad consequence (prison or death in their case), God still wants us to choose to obey Him.
Explain to your children that the problem with playing the blame game is that we can become so good at it that we don’t even realize we are playing it after awhile. Blaming others for everything bad that happens can become a really bad habit. It can become so bad that we don’t believe we need to be a Christian or repent of our sins, because we are never responsible for making sinful choices.
The first step in breaking the blame game habit is the ability to recognize how easily and often we blame others instead of taking responsibility or working to find solutions. Give each of your children a piece of paper or a little notebook. Explain that for the next week every time they catch someone or themselves trying to blame others instead of taking responsibility for their part of the problem or focusing on blaming someone instead of working to find a solution, they should pay close attention. For each incident, they should record enough information so they can discuss what happened at the end of the week. They can use examples from streaming content, books, newspapers and of course real life. (As the parent, try to capture every example of them or you and your spouse blaming others for something.)
You may want to kick off the exercise by watching a kid’s movie or show that depicts people trying to play the blame game. Help your children identify the incidents as they happen while you watch it together. After it’s finished, discuss any consequences that happened because of characters trying to shift blame (Be sure to point out any unrealistic scenarios that may have also occurred.) This is especially important for younger children who may have a difficult time understanding the concepts you are teaching.
At the end of the week, discuss what everyone observed. Did the exercise make you more aware of how often the blame game is played in our world? Did it make you start to notice how playing the game hurts the blame shifter in the long run? What could people have done differently in some of those situations? How does the blame game relate to God’s commands for us to repent of our sins? Have fun with it, but help them see how blaming others will only hurt them in the long run. (Note: Rare children may overthink this and begin doing the opposite – blaming themselves for things that were not their fault. Work with them to understand the godly balance needed. Taking the blame unnecessarily for others is often not in the other person’s best interest either – as they may need to learn to accept responsibility for their actions, too.)
When Christians talk about the term stewardship, it is usually in regards to money. Historically, a steward was hired by someone wealthy to help them manage their entire household. The person would be charged with improving the financial holdings through savings and income, but would also be responsible for making sure everything owned was well cared for. For example, if the wealthy man had a vineyard, a manor house and servants, the steward might be in charge of caring for all of those things.
It is crucial your children understand not just the financial aspect of stewardship God expects from His people, but also how to be good stewards over their entire lives. There is a fun ongoing devotional you can do as a family to get everyone in the habit of thinking about being good stewards over everything God has given you to steward.
Call your children together and tell or read them the parable of the minas found in Luke 19:11-27. It is a variation of the more familiar parable of the talents. It’s a little bit edgier, because it also covers those who reject Jesus entirely and their fate. I suggested this particular parable, as it is one most children never hear, but you can also do the other one if you prefer.
Explain to your children the concept of a steward. Tell them that although we may no longer refer to people as stewards, wealthy people and companies have people they hire to manage their assets. These people, just like in the parable, are held accountable for how well they do their job.
Read 1 Corinthians 4:2. Ask your children to list some of the things God has given them stewardship over. Younger children will struggle and may not be able to name anything. Some children will mention money after hearing the parable – especially if they get an allowance or earn money in some way. Rephrase the question a couple of times to see if they can think more deeply about the idea and generate a few more ideas. (What do you think God wants you to take good care of? If God came back today, what might He ask you about, like the master in the parable asked his servants?)
Help them understand stewardship goes beyond just money. God wants them to be good stewards of their health, their time, their influence, their possessions, nature, etc. As you think of new areas, write them on a sheet of paper that you can keep posted on the refrigerator or another place where everyone will see it regularly.
Ask your children to pick one area from the list you made or write each category on a slip of paper. Fold the papers and place them in a bowl, then have either someone choose a paper for the entire group or each person choose a different category.
Regardless of how you choose categories, the challenge is the same. Over the course of the next week you are to figure out what it might mean to be a good steward of that area and make efforts to improve stewardship. For younger children, you may want to discuss what it means to be a good steward in that area and together plan specific things you each want to work on that week to become better stewards in that area. Each person may have different goals depending upon the topic. For example, if the area chosen was being a better steward of my health – one person might decide to exercise more minutes a day while another decides to cut out sugary snacks.
Older children and teens might want a bit less guidance up front and more ability to explore the topic before discussing it as a family. Encourage them to do some research and think about how each of you can become better stewards in that area. Because this may mean breaking bad habits or starting new ones, this may also be a great time to talk about goals and habits.
Have fun with it, but regularly rotate areas to explore what it means to be a good steward in that aspect of life. Look at Luke 12:48 together. What does it mean ”to whom much is given, much will be required”? This topic especially needs to be explored in areas where your family or your children are particularly blessed. It can be easy to coast and give the bare minimum when there is plenty to give. A million dollar gift from a wealthy person may be less than 1% of their wealth, while a million dollar gift from someone poor would be more than they might earn in an entire lifetime. How might this also apply if your children are gifted intellectually or with various talents?
Christians are stewards of more than just money. Teach your children how to be good stewards of their lives and they may just help turn the world upside down in a good way!
Children, and even some teens, only pay attention to what they can easily see with their eyes. This can cause misunderstandings, poor choices and other negative consequences. There is a fun devotional you can do with your kids to encourage them to look below the surface and try to see things the way God sees them.
To prepare for this devotional, you may want to go to your local library and check out books on optical illusions. Or you can find lots of optical illusions online. (Here’s a link to one site https://www.rd.com/article/optical-illusions/) You may also want to provide your kids with plain paper and pens.
Start by reading or telling the story of Balaam and the donkey found in Numbers 22. Point out that Balaam couldn’t see what was right in front of him. His donkey could see the danger and was trying to protect him. Balaam would have been killed if he had succeeded in making the donkey continue to move forward. When Balaam could finally see what the donkey saw, it changed his attitude and behaviors. Ask your children why seeing what the donkey saw changed Balaam so much and so quickly.
Point out that sometimes in life we are like Balaam. We can’t see the things that could hurt us. We are only thinking of what we want instead of the possible negative consequences of those desires. In order to be wise, we need to look beyond the obvious and try to see the world as God sees it. Only with that full picture can we make consistently wise choices.
Ask your children to give examples of when something may look good on the surface, but if we don’t look deeper, we will miss the problems in taking that route. For example, if their teacher gives them a pop quiz and they haven’t studied, it may on the surface seem like a good idea to copy someone else’s answers. But if they pause and view the situation from God’s viewpoint, they will realize that while their grade may be higher, they are in essence lying and stealing by cheating. The consequences of those sins are much worse than a bad grade on a quiz. See how many other examples they can generate.
For a fun wrap up, show them some of the optical illusions you found. Point out how looking at them from different perspectives makes them notice different things. They can use the paper and pens to create their own optical illusions. This site gives them instructions for drawing one type of illusion. https://tscpl.org/teens/learn-how-to-draw-amazing-optical-illusions
After your devotional, periodically remind your kids to look at situations more carefully when you can tell they are only looking at the situation on a surface level. Teaching them this skill and encouraging them to use it consistently can make it easier for them to avoid negative consequences because of poor choices.
Perhaps one of the more interesting stories in the Bible is the story of Hezekiah and the shadow on the steps. Since it’s also a story your children may not have heard, it makes a great family devotional. The story is told in 2 Kings 20:1-11.
Call your children together and tell or read them the story of Hezekiah and the shadow on the stairs. Explain that in those times the sun and the shadows it created were used to tell the time. When Hezekiah asked God to move the shadow backwards, he was in essence asking God to move time backwards! The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly how God performed the miracle – whether he ”merely” moved the shadow backwards ten steps or moved time backwards and whatever that equated to – but God did the miracle Hezekiah requested.
To help your children better understand how time was told with shadows, make your own family sundial. (There are lots of instructions online, but here is one from WikiHow https://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Sundial). As you make and set up the sundial, you can dig deeper with a spiritual discussion in several ways. If you wish, you can discuss how amazing God is and how nothing is impossible for Him. Talk about the amazing things you have seen God do today.
You can also spend time talking about the importance of praying and how God can answer prayers with “yes”, “no”, or “wait”. Point out that God didn’t promise Hezekiah that he would never die, just that He would give him fifteen more years to live. We do know, however, that God gave Hezekiah those extra years, because he was praying. Had Hezekiah not prayed, he most likely would have died much sooner.
Finally, you can extend the lesson by discussing time and how we are to use it to serve and glorify God. Talk about how Hezekiah might have thought differently about time after the shadow went backwards on the steps. Discuss how we often take time for granted and waste it. Brainstorm ways you all can use the time God has given you more wisely.
Leave your sundial outside for a time. Revisit it periodically and have more discussions about time. If your area has daylight savings time, note how the sundial becomes inaccurate when the time changes from the zone in which you calibrated it. You can even use that discussion to teach your children about time zones and begin discussing missions around the world in the various time zones.
Have fun with it, but take advantage of the opportunities your sundial will give you to talk about God and time with your children.