“Love Your Enemies”

Have you taught your kids “The Golden Rule”?

You know, that famous one-liner that says, “Treat others the way you want to be treated.”

It’s definitely easier said than done! Most kids can quote this well-known aphorism, but most have a hard time applying it within conflict. In fact, many adults even struggle to treat others with the love Jesus calls us to, when they have been wronged themselves. We are in need of some practical advice. How can we treat others the right way?

We invite you into a deeper understanding of the words of Jesus: “Treat others the way God has treated you.” That is, let our behavior toward others be dependent on and reflective of God’s behavior toward us, which is ultimately the way we want others to treat us.

The way kids see it:

“She hit me, so I hit her back!”

“He stole my puzzle first—that’s why I took his book!”

“I’m eating her Cheerios because she always eats mine!”

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In the age of Batman and Ironman—a culture that emphasizes fairness, earning what you’re worth, and exercising a sort of vigilante vengeance—it is only natural to children that they should avenge themselves when wronged. In fact, there is a degree to which this intuitive sense of justice is healthy and necessary. Wrong-doing should be acknowledged and behaviors corrected. However, there is more to it than simply punishing the wrongdoer. We can invite kids to strive to make things good instead of simply making things even.

In Exclusion and Embrace, Miroslav Volf explains, “The trouble with revenge… is that it enslaves us.” When we treat others based on how they have treated us, we are letting them control us. This is reacting. Our actions toward them are completely controlled by their actions toward us. Volf says that we can become “shaped in the mirror image of” people who are unkind to us.

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Responding, on the other hand, is a process of taking the time to formulate a response based on information outside the other person. Knowing that God ultimately promises to remove all that has gone wrong with the world, we know there is hope for things to be made right again. Volf says that, knowing God’s promise that one day everything will be made right again, we are freed to see people the way God sees them, and treat them with the love and kindness God shows us. We can invite our kids into the same type of response—instead of choosing to react in anger, they can choose to join God’s plan to make everything in the world good again.

There is freedom in this! When we refuse to do what is expected—that is, to retaliate—we choose a different, better path. When I choose to respond lovingly to someone who has been unkind to me, I am empowered to choose God’s path—instead of following the path my offender has chosen for me.

Jesus was the best example of this; as Volf writes, “… Christ, the victim who refused to be defined by the perpetrator, forgives… the enemy.” One time, some soldiers and religious leaders approached Jesus, holding weapons. They already didn’t get along with Jesus, because he had disagreed with them in public many times (Luke 5:27-32; 6:1-11; 14:1-14; 20:1-8; 20:20-26), plus since they were carrying weapons it was clear they wanted to harm Jesus! Jesus’ friend Peter tried to protect him, cutting off someone’s ear in the crowd, but Jesus told Peter he didn’t want to fight, and healed the injured man. When Jesus was beaten and hung on a cross to die, Jesus prays for the people who hurt him. The Bible says God has a never-stopping, always and forever love for people. This is the example we are invited to follow when we make it our goal to treat others as God has treated us.

In this lies a compelling opportunity for our children: Choose God’s path instead of the wrongdoer’s path—treat others the way God has treated you! This requires that kids learn to be in charge of themselves. We do not mean that kids need to be in perfect control of their body—after all, kids are still learning fine motor skills and self-control as a normal stage in their development. Rather, we invite kids to intentionally choose how they react in different situations, knowing that God longs for the situation to be transformed into something good—for both them and the other people involved! We can help kids name the emotion they are feeling, think of a way God has been kind to them, and choose a similar response to how God has treated them.

Let’s invite kids to be agents of change, treating others the way God has treated them. Remind kids that bullies and mean girls are not in charge of them. Each person is in charge of him or herself. And as Christians, we choose to let God be in charge of us. In the Bible, the apostle Paul encourages us to let God’s love and peace control us, and to “overcome evil with good.”

Not only does this path free us from being controlled by another person, but it also breaks the cycle of sin, bringing God’s redemptive love into a situation. When a person treats me poorly, so I treat them poorly back—or if I even treat a third person poorly because the person who offended me put me in a grumpy mood—this simply spreads negativity.

We can invite kids to see everyday situations in a different way:

“She hit me, so I told her, ‘That hurts my body and I don’t like it. I don’t want you to feel hurt either. Let’s keep each other safe!’”

“He stole my puzzle—so I asked if we could share it and do teamwork together!”

“She ate my Cheerios, so I asked if she was hungry, then told her about the snacks she could have.”

Don’t give unkind people the satisfaction of reacting exactly the way they think you will—instead, be intentional about showing God’s love to them. This frees you from their control, breaks the cycle of badness, and even gives them a glimpse of the power of God’s love—which truly “covers a multitude of sins.” Good really can defeat evil—and not by punching it and throwing it in a prison cell—but by overcoming it with the greatest Love that has ever been known.

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God is Love

Hello Church family!

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and—naturally—it has us thinking about love. The greatest love of all—the love of our God—is so worth celebrating! This week, we invite you to take some time to remind your kids that love is more than red hearts, paper cards, and pink cupcakes. Use the ideas below to teach your kiddos that God’s love is powerful and enduring and greater than anything—and that we can share it with others!

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Memorize some Bible verses about God’s love. Some toddlers can memorize “God is love,” while your fourth and fifth graders might take up the challenge of memorizing the entire “love chapter” (1 Corinthians 13)!

  • “Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)
  • “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)
  • “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1)
  • “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” (1 John 4:16)
  • “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
  • “…God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (1 John 4:8-12)

Explore some Bible stories that illustrate God’s love.

  • Matthew 6:25-34 | God will take care of you—he gives birds and plants the things they need—and He loves you even more than them! He doesn’t want you to worry—He will give you everything you need.
  • Luke 19:1-10 | Nobody liked Zacchaeus, but Jesus saw him and wanted to hang out at his house! God loves everyone.
  • Luke 10:25-37 | Jesus told a story about a man who was hurt and needed help. Some people walked by him without helping him, but one man helped him get up and found him a place to stay and helped him heal. Jesus said that is how we should love other people!

Exercise your creativity! Below are a few ideas for art projects that reinforce the message of God’s love.

Love others with God’s love. Talk about ways to share God’s love with others this Valentine’s Day and the whole year long!

  • Write notes of encouragement. Path Through the Narrow Gate provides some printable notes from parents to their kids, reminding them of biblical truths of God’s love and how we can show that love to others. Print these for free, or make some of your own!
  • Bake a treat and give it to a neighbor.
  • Share toys with other children.
  • Give a hug to a friend who is sad or hurt.

We hope you have a meaningful and rewarding season of exploring God’s love with your kids-and a happy Valentine’s Day!

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God the Redeemer {Unit 4}

The next five weeks will take us through Moses’ life, where we learn that Yahweh is a God who rescues and redeems!

Big Picture Question: What is God’s plan? God’s plan is to rescue His people from captivity.

Key Passage: “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s household… But Christ was faithful as a Son over His household. And we are that household if we hold on to the courage and the confidence of our hope.” (Hebrews 3:5-6)

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Moses Was Born and Called • Exodus 1:8-2:10, 23-25; 3:1-4:20| God rescued Moses to deliver His people from captivity.

Moses was chosen by God to help deliver God’s people out of Egypt. When God’s people cried out to God, He responded and miraculously rescued them from physical captivity. Jesus was a greater Deliverer because He rescued God’s people from captivity to sin. The Exodus points back to Joseph bringing His family into Egypt and forward to Jesus rescuing God’s people from sin.

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The Plagues, the Passover, and the Crossing of the Red Sea • Exodus 5-14 | God proved to the Egyptians that He is the one true God.

God used miraculous plagues to show Pharaoh and the Egyptian people that He alone is God and graciously spared the Israelites from the final plague when they trusted in Him and put the blood of a lamb around their doors. God spared Israel by the blood of a lamb, but Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. God’s salvation of His people is always by grace through faith and we need Jesus to trust and obey God.

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The Wilderness Test Exodus 15:22-17:7 | God provided for the physical needs of His people.

God provided food and water for His people as they wandered in the wilderness. When Israel became hungry and thirsty, they grumbled about Moses and God, and God graciously provided for them even though they did not deserve it. In the same way that God provided for Israel’s physical need, God provides for the spiritual need of people through Jesus. God is gracious and He freely gives what we need – including Jesus – not because of anything we have done, but because of God’s goodness alone.

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The Golden Calf • Exodus 32:1-35; 34:1-9 | It’s always best to obey God.

Moses went up Mt. Sinai to talk with God for 40 days. During that time, the people rebelled against the one true God and asked Aaron to make a golden calf to be their god. When God became angry, Moses interceded on their behalf. As Moses interceded for Israel that day, Jesus intercedes for all God’s people today.

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The Ten Commandments: Love God • Exodus 19:1-20:11; 31:18 | God gave us rules because He knows what’s best for us, and He will help us trust Him.

The first four of the Ten Commandments were given by God through Moses to teach His people how to love and worship Him. God loves us and His plan is the best way to live, but we cannot obey God on our own. And that’s the point of the law – to show us of our need for another way to be right with God; a way found only in Jesus. God is holy and wants us to be holy as well—we can be holy because of Jesus.

For more resources and ideas of how to continue these conversations at home, check out these Big Picture Cards for Families.

God’s Plans Never Fail {Unit 3}

Welcome to 2017! We’re starting off the new year by teaching kids that God has a perfect plan to save his creation. Take a look at what we’ll be learning this month!

Big Picture Question: What can stop God’s plan? Nothing can stop God’s perfect plan.

Key Passage: “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.” (Genesis 26:24)

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The Stolen Blessing Genesis 25:27-34; 27:1-45 | Jacob stole Esau’s blessing.

God told Rebekah while she was pregnant that her older son (Esau) would serve her younger son (Jacob). This was unheard of! Typically, upon the death of his father, the older brother would receive for his birthright twice as much property and goods as the younger. But Esau gave it to Jacob for a hot bowl of stew. Later, Jacob wore his brother’s clothes and lied to his father to receive a special blessing Isaac meant to bestow on Esau, which made Jacob master over Esau—just as God had said. This story points forward to Jesus—Jesus is the firstborn over all creation (Col. 1:15), and He deserves all the privileges afforded to Him. But when Jesus hung on the cross, He gave up His blessing for us. Jesus took the punishment we deserve so that the Father would give us the blessing Jesus deserves.

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Jacob’s New Name  Genesis 32–33 | God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, the name of God’s covenant people.

After Jacob ran away from Esau, he lived with his uncle Laban for many years. God kept His promise to bless Jacob with a large family and riches, but now God said it was time for Jacob to return home. Jacob was uncertain because the last time he had seen Esau, Esau wanted to kill Jacob. So Jacob prepared for the meeting with Esau; he strategically divided his family into separate groups and sent gifts ahead of them to appease Esau. That night, Jacob anxiously awaited word from Esau. He then encountered the Lord and wrestled with him. Jacob didn’t win by strength, but by confessing his dependence on God’s blessing. Jacob knew his own strength wasn’t enough; he held onto God and would not let go. God graciously blessed Jacob and gave him a new name, Israel. From Jacob’s descendants—from the nation of Israel—God would bring into the world His Son, Jesus.

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Joseph Sent to Egypt • Genesis 37:1-36; 39:1–41:57 | God used Joseph’s suffering for good.

When Jacob grew up, he had 12 sons, but his favorite son was Joseph. Jacob didn’t hide his favoritism and Joseph’s brothers were jealous. When Joseph told his brothers about the dream he had that they would one day bow down to him, they hated him so much they threw him into a pit with the intent to kill him. Then they figured they’d make a profit by selling him to people taking slaves to Egypt, where he was sold into Potiphar’s house. But God was with him—even when Potiphar’s wife had Joseph thrown into prison for something he didn’t do. God had a great plan that included raising Joseph into a position of power in Egypt. Remind your kids that nothing could stop God’s perfect plan to send Jesus through the family of Israel.

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Joseph’s Dreams Came True • Genesis 42:1–46:34; 50:15-21 | God sent Joseph to Egypt to establish a remnant.

After Joseph became second-in-command of Egypt, the seven years of plenty had passed and the people were two years into a time of famine. Even Jacob’s family in Canaan needed food, so ten of Jacob’s sons went to Egypt to buy grain. Joseph was in charge of distributing the food and he recognized his brothers immediately, but they didn’t recognize him. Joseph put his brothers through a series of tests, accusing them of being spies and ordering them to return with their youngest brother, Benjamin. Finally, he revealed his identity, and they were terrified. Joseph was in position to exact revenge, but instead Joseph showed them grace. Joseph explained that even though his brothers intended harm, God intended his good. Joseph invited his family to come to Egypt where they could thrive—and they did! God kept His promise, and through the nation of Israel, He worked out His plan of redemption through His Son, Jesus Christ.

What a wise and good God we have! For more about Sunday morning lessons and at-home conversations, check out the Big Picture Cards for Families and other resources from The Gospel Project Blog. Happy New Year!

Our Covenant-Making God

Hello parents!

We’re excited to begin our second unit of The Gospel Project for Kids! Over the next three weeks, kids will learn that God is a covenant-making God. Below is a summary of the passages and main points for Unit 2.

Unit 2 Key Passage: “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3).

Big Picture Question: What did God promise? God made a covenant to bless His people.

Session 1 | God’s Covenant with Abraham (Nov 6th)

Bible Passage: Genesis 12:1-3; 15:1-21; 17:1-9

Main Point: God promised to bless all the world through Abraham.

Session 2 | God Tested Abraham (Nov 13th)

Bible Passage: Genesis 22:1-19

Main Point: Abraham trusted God, even when he didn’t understand God’s plan.

Session 3 | The Promise Reaffirmed (Nov 27th)

Bible Passage: Genesis 25:19-26; 26:1-6; 28:10-22

Main Point: God reminded Abraham’s family that He always keeps His promises.

In Session 1, kids will learn how God spoke to Abram, calling him to leave behind his family and his lands to go to a place God would show him. God made a covenant with Abram, promising to bless all the world through one of his descendants (Gen 12:1-3). By faith, Abram obeyed. God was serious about the covenant; He always keeps His promises. God even changed Abram’s name to Abraham, which means “Father of a Multitude.” God promised to bless all the earth through Abraham. At just the right time, Jesus was born into Abraham’s family. (Gal. 4:4-5) Jesus fulfilled God’s promise to Abraham. (See Gal. 3:8.) Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Through Him, all the nations of the earth are blessed.

In Session 2, our journey takes us to an event that occurred after Abraham and Sarah had their son of promise, Isaac. Abraham received another message from God. It was a test, actually. God instructed Abraham to take his son Isaac, the son of promise, and sacrifice him on a mountain God would tell him about. Abraham had waited so many years for this child! But what did Abraham do? He woke up early the next morning and set out with Isaac to do what God commanded. By this point, Abraham had supreme faith that God was able to do anything. Hebrews 11:17-19 gives us a peek inside Abraham’s mind: “He considered God to be able even to raise someone from the dead.” Abraham showed both his love for God and his trust in Him by being willing to sacrifice his son Isaac. God provided a ram for the burnt offering in place of Isaac, who was spared. This is how God showed His love for us: He sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross so that we could have eternal life through Him.

In Session 3’s Bible story, God reaffirmed the promise to Abraham’s son Isaac and to his grandson Jacob (Gen. 26:3-4; 28:13-14). When Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, became pregnant with twins, the babies struggled with each other in her womb. God explained their future. The older son (Esau) would serve the younger (Jacob). Their families would separate and become two nations, one stronger than the other. These things came true, but not in the way Isaac’s family would have expected. Jacob tricked his father and brother to steal the blessing. To escape his brother’s anger, Jacob fled to his uncle’s house. On the way, God spoke to Jacob in a dream. Jacob saw a stairway to heaven, and he saw God there. God repeated the promise to Jacob. He promised to be with Jacob. Explain to your kids that, like the stairway in Jacob’s dream, Jesus bridges the gap between heaven and earth. (See John 1:51.) Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Sin separates people from God, but when people turn from their sin and trust in Jesus, Jesus brings them into God’s family.

We can’t wait to dive into this exciting unit where we learn about the amazing God who loves us and keeps His promises! Check out the Gospel Project for Kids Family App or the Big Picture Cards for Families (click here for Preschool & Elementary cards) for ways to interact with the Bible content each week. We’ll see you soon!

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What’s the point of Church?

Your elementary student learned yesterday about the importance of coming to church! The bottom line your child learned is that friends worship together. This is a commitment that is slowly being lost in our culture, and we’d love for you to continue to talk to your kids about the importance of regularly coming to church! Below, you will find answers to questions your kids might ask and ideas to help church be a positive experience.  Enjoy!

Where does it say in the Bible that we should go to church every Sunday? Hebrews 10:24-25 gives us good advice. The writer says: 24 Let us consider how we can stir up one another to love. Let us help one another to do good works. 25 Let us not give up meeting together. Some are in the habit of doing this. Instead, let us cheer each other up with words of hope. Let us do it all the more as you see the day coming when Christ will return.” We weren’t meant to live our lives alone. God created us for community. Community can only happen if you see each other often! God wants us to connect with other people who want to live for Him, and the best way to do that is by gathering together frequently- such as every Sunday!

What is the point of going to church? First, going to church gives us the opportunity to remember and think about God’s love for us. We forget things really easily, but going to church is a great reminder to help us remember how great God’s love is- especially seen in Jesus! Going to church is also a great opportunity to learn more about who God is and what matters to Him. The Bible is packed full of information, and learning about God with friends makes it more fun! Going to church is also a great time to be given instruction and reminders about what we should be doing with our lives. Think of an athlete. They train and work hard for the race. Going to church on Sunday is one way that a Christian can train to work hard for the things God desires throughout the week.

What if I your kids don’t feel like going? On a day when your kids don’t feel like going to church, encourage them to go! Set your kids up to have a good time at church. Eat a fun breakfast, pray out loud on your way to church, ask God to teach every person in the family something new about Him, and don’t forget to smile and show your kids that you also want to go to church!

As your wrap up, ask your kids “What do you like most about church?” If they need some help coming up with ideas, help them remember that church is a place where they get to see friends. They get to sing at church, they play all kinds of crazy games, they talk and learn about God together, and they learn about how their lives fit into God’s Big Story.

Then, ask your kids, “What gets in the way of going to church?” Maybe it’s hard to get to church because life is so crazy busy. Maybe you have to work around a sport team’s practice schedule. Or maybe you have the kind of family situation where you can’t come every week. As a family, brainstorm things you can do to help you come to church every Sunday. This might include adding in a fun element on your way to church, praying for an desire to go to church, or challenging each person in your family to remember one thing and share it out loud on the way home!

Want to hear what Ken Wytsma has to say about the importance of church? Watch this short Redux video! Then check out the Redux website for more answers to questions you might have!

What can your kids give to God?

The holiday’s are in full swing! Have you asked your kids what they want for Christmas? Have you asked your kids what they want to give God for Christmas?

Wait.

Stop right there.

Can you give God something for Christmas?

I’m glad you asked! Yes, yes you can! Below you will find an awesome idea, thanks to Noel Piper’s book titled “Treasuring God in our Traditions”, that will help your kids understand what they can give to God!

Start here. Talk to your kids about the meaning of Christmas. For example, ask your kids “Whose birthday do we celebrate on Christmas?”. Of course, they will say “Jesus!“.

Then, use some kid logic to get them thinking. Ask your kids, “What do you give on birthdays?” And off course, they will say “Presents!“.

Tie the two questions together and ask, “Well, how do we give presents to God?”

I’m pretty sure this will stump them. It might stump you. It stumped me at first!

Grab your Bible and help your kids find Matthew 25:30. As a family, read this verse which says, “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” Read it again and explain to your kids that this verse gives the answer. It says that when we love and care for others, we love and care for the King. And that is what God wants. The best presents we can give God are sacrifice, service, servant’s hearts and loving attitudes.

Here is where it gets fun!

For the month of December, give your kids the a challenge. Anytime you catch your kids serving others, doing chores with a happy heart, or choosing to help someone, give your child a quarter to put in a special container. All month long, every time your child earns a quarter, they should put it in that special container.

On Christmas Eve, count up all the month in each child’s special container. Then, go to an online justice gift catalog such as Compassion International or World Relief and pick something to give to someone in need with all the money that has been earned.

We recommend placing some visual reminders around the house to help your kids remember this challenge. Write “What can we give to the King?” on bathroom mirrors, on a large piece of paper, or on a picture frame in the middle of the room. Help kids decorate containers to collect their quarters in. And don’t forget, remind yourself that by choosing to have a servants heart each day is a way to give a good present to God!

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A Theology of Thanksgiving… for kids!

Did you know that thankfulness is a learned behavior?

For some kids, it comes easier than others. But nonetheless, it is a learned behavior that is instilled by repetition and awareness.

As the Thanksgiving season approaches, we want to give your kids the opportunity to practice being thankful. It is easy to be thankful for ice cream, puppies and days off from school. But we want to help instill a theology of thankfulness that extends to even the hard stuff like family problems, sickness, and social struggles.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Notice that it does not say “Give thanks for everything that you like” or “Give thanks for everything that is easy”. Instead, it simply says that we must give thanks for everything.

Buy why?

The writer of Psalm 106:1 will help us answer this question. This verse says, “Praise the Lord! Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! His mercy endures forever.” Pop Quiz: Why does the writer say we should give thanks?

  1. Because dinner was delicious.
  2. Because today was fun.
  3. Because the Lord is good.

The psalmist says to give thanks because the Lord is forever good! Because of this, we should be able to offer thanks to God regardless of our circumstances.

This gets increasingly more difficult if we don’t know our God well. The Bible is packed with descriptions of God! But where would be a good place to start to get to know Him better? Psalm 103 tells us a lot about our God. Start with these 22 verses and, as a family, make a list of everything the chapter says about God.  Pick three things from the chapter and thank God for being a God who can be described in such a marvelous way! Then, come back to the list tomorrow and pick three more. Continue until you have made it through your list… and, if you dare, start again from the top. After all, it is proven that kid’s learn by repetition!

As a family, get in the habit of thanking God for who He is!

Happy Thanksgiving!