Dale Johnson: I love this time of year where we have moved into the fall and now we’re celebrating Christmas. What a fun time of year. Last year my wife Summer and I had the fun opportunity to share some of our Christmas traditions. This year we have the Chairman of our Board of Trustees, Dr. John Street, who’s joining me on the podcast to describe some of his Christmas traditions. John, welcome. I’m so thankful that you’re here to share with us some of these significant times in your own household.
John Street: Thank you, Dale. It is an amazing time of the year.
Dale Johnson: As you think about Christmas traditions, were there any types of special events, not just on Christmas day, but even leading up to the month of December or post-Thanksgiving that you tried to do consistently as a family?
John Street: As I look back upon our years in pastoral ministry, I pastored several years in Ohio and our kids were much younger at that time. There were certain things that we would do with our local church there and they’re very fond memories. Every year, we would host the elders and their wives in our home for a really nice dinner. My wife and I would prepare everything. It would usually be a four or five course dinner that would have some kind of specialty meat prepared, like prime rib. And our children were just old enough to be able to serve at tables. We got to train them how to serve the elders, what side to approach a person from and how to refill glasses.
The elders and their wives in our church loved that tradition and looked forward to it every year. I spent the entire time for about two days with my wife in the kitchen, which helped me learn how to love her more. The kids were the ones who really had the interaction with the elders and their wives. We wanted our children to know that Christmas was about acting Christlike and serving others, and they did that. It was really quite a joyful time.
Later on, we moved to teach at The Master’s University and Seminary in California. One of the strangest things around Christmastime was seeing a palm tree decorated with Christmas lights. I had never seen that before and that was very strange. It was very hard for me to get used to. I was used to pine trees being decorated with Christmas lights, but not palm trees.
Our fellowship group, which was part of Grace Community Church, took time early in the Christmas season to go caroling to shut in people that were part of our church. We have a rather large church of over 8,000 people, so we have a lot of shut-ins. We have about eight major home Bible study groups as a part of our fellowship group. They all had certain people in the areas where they met and they would go and carol and take gifts to those shut-ins. That is also a wonderful tradition that still continues to this time.
Dale Johnson: That’s great for your kids to learn how to serve and how to serve well. That’s a great focus during this time of year, when oftentimes the culture around us becomes very materialistic at Christmas. What are some traditions that you focused on with your children and even now with your grandchildren?
John Street: We would always read the Christmas story, especially on Christmas Day. When our kids were much younger, we would try to make it very interesting for them. Before any gifts were opened or anything like that, we would act out the story. I don’t know why it is, but Dad always became the donkey in the Christmas story and the kids would always get on my back and ride the donkey. Mom was always Mary and probably one of our sons acted as Joseph, and then I would carry the rest of them on my back. We would act out the Christmas story and then we would talk about it.
One of the ways I attempted to bring the gospel in for our kids, especially when they were younger, was talking about why Bethlehem was so significant. Why did the Savior have to be born in Bethlehem? I described for them how of all the sacrifices in the temple at that particular time, all of the major lambs that were sacrificed were raised right outside of Bethlehem. That was a special area that was designated by the priests where sheep were raised for the purpose of temple sacrifice.
Why did Mary and Joseph have to go to Bethlehem? All of this was part of the divine plan of God. The ultimate Lamb of God, the Savior Jesus Christ who is the Lord, would be the one taken from Bethlehem and eventually sacrificed there on the cross. All of my kids still remember that and it’s something that we still emphasize today with our grandkids when we have an opportunity to see them. Right now, our grandkids live all over the planet out in ministries in certain areas, but when we have the opportunity to have them around Christmas, we love sharing that story with them.
Dale Johnson: It’s such a great story and a great way to utilize this time of year to describe the beauty of Christmas. If we were to walk into the Street household on a Christmas morning, what else might unfold and what might we see?
John Street: You would probably see a fire in the fireplace. Yes, we do have fireplaces in California. It’s a gas fireplace, but nevertheless there would be a fire there. We would all be sitting around with our Bibles open and we’d be reading the Christmas story. I would be assigning to everybody in the room a certain portion to be read and we would go around the room. Then we’d have a time of prayer, and usually that time of prayer was dedicated to people that we knew that were a part of our church that were going through difficult times or suffering. We would especially focus on people who had lost loved ones or family members, whether to a tragic accident or something else. We would go around and pray for those particular people because this was probably their first Christmas without that loved one. We would center in on people who were hurting in our congregation.
Dale Johnson: That’s important because this time of year for many of us is a joyous time, but for many others it’s a very difficult time. It’s a great way to spend your Christmas morning, being mindful of the loss that people may be experiencing, those who are hurting during a time of year which typically had been special and now is a difficult situation. One final question that we want to explore is to hear a little bit more about how you and Miss Janie work through Christmas traditions. Describe some of the ways that you taught your four children about the importance and beauty of the incarnation, Jesus coming to earth, the reason that we celebrate Christmas.
John Street: This goes back to the way in which we worked with them when they did something wrong and they were disciplined. When I do parenting seminars, I sometimes talk about the fact that every discipline event becomes an opportunity for the gospel. We wanted our kids to understand what God expected of them. God expects them to be perfect. So if they were disciplined we would frequently ask them, “What does God expect of you?” There’s only one answer to that question: “God expects me to be perfect.”
The strange thing about that is that the younger a child is, the more that child believes that they can actually be perfect. They’ll stiffen up and say, “Okay, I’ll do better the next time.” Then the next time comes and they fail. You say, “What is it that God expects of you? God expects you to be perfect.” Eventually that kid is going to turn around and say to you, “But I can’t be perfect.” At that point, the doors swing wide open for the gospel. “That’s right. That’s why you need Jesus Christ.”
My wife and I worked on the assumption that every kid assumes: they really don’t need Christ. They’ll add Christ to their life, but they don’t really think they need Christ until that is demonstrated to them. They need to first realize how they constantly fall short of God’s absolute standard of righteousness and holiness and understand there’s nothing that they can ever do in order to be right with God. This is what happened to me when I was seven years old. I remember the first time it dawned on me that, “I’m never going to be able to do anything that will ultimately please God. That’s why I need Christ.” That’s what I want my kids to know. When we talk about the incarnation, the Lord Jesus Christ coming to the earth and becoming like men and a servant among men (Philippians 2), we’re talking about God’s way of demonstrating the fact that he gave his beloved Son as an atoning sacrifice for sin so that we could know eternal life and love him as Savior. That engenders within the Christian’s heart a natural worship towards him when that heart has been redeemed.
Dale Johnson: That’s such a great picture. John, this has been so fun for me to hear the way that you and Miss Janie have tried to be faithful, even in your Christmas traditions. Thank you so much for giving us some insight in how the Lord has used you over the years to build traditions that your kids still faithfully pursue today. What a great time of year. I pray that you’re able to celebrate well as we celebrate this beautiful season of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
John Street: Thank you.