First Night Virginia!

I’m happy to announce that I will be returning to perform at First Night Virginia this New Year’s Eve in Charlottesville, VA. The shows will be at 6:30pm, 9pm, and 10:15pm at the First United Methodist Church in Charlottesville, VA on December 31, 2017.

I hope to see you all there!

Click on the link below for my show’s profile on the event website.

http://www.firstnightva.org/_event_pages/event_page-27.html#event-page-top

And here is the main website for the entire event: http://www.firstnightva.org/

One of the easiest games that kids love

Remember Bozo the Clown’s Grand Prize Game?!

If you don’t, then either you’re much younger than me or you had better things to do than watch television as a child.

His bucket game was full of pomp and craziness, but the basic idea of it is extremely simple and duplicatable in any setting where you want to have fun with kids.

All you do is line up some buckets or baskets and have kids try to toss a ball in each one – successively tossing the ball in the next farthest bucket each time (college students have another name for this game, but that version is not for kids).

If you miss, you’re out or go to the end of the line. The player who makes the farthest basket wins.

The super easy variation that I put on this game is having just one stationary bucket or trash can, then making the players take one step back each time they make a shot. The player who takes the most steps back and continues to make the shot wins.

The fun is endless, because you can have all the kids line up and simply try to make a shot from the farthest line drawn. If they make the shot, they keep shooting and stepping back each time until they miss. The next player then steps in at the new line and tries to push it back even further.

Another variation is to have someone shake or move the bucket back and forth while blindfolded. That way, they don’t move the bucket in such a way that helps the shooter. And it gives a funny challenge to the shooter.

What are some variations you’ve put on this game?

Stewards of the Story

Last night, I was working with my seven year-old daughter on a Bible verse that she is trying to memorize. The verse spoke about the “fear of God” and we had a good discussion about the definition of the word “fear” in that context. While that alone is a whole other discussion, the point I want to make here is that while we were discussing that topic, a number of other theological topics came up in our discussion. I noticed that she was engaged and interested in hearing my take on this grand story of God. Then a powerful thought hit me: “Wow, here I am passing on a story that has endured for generations and I am just a tiny little steward of this story in the course of history.”

It was a humbling thought.

It was also very encouraging. It is exciting to be a part of something so much bigger than myself. God’s story precedes me and it will endure long after my time on this earth. It is my job to care for it, stay true to it, be transformed by it, and pass it on to those after me – so they can do the same for the generations after them.

James Earl Massey wrote a book in 2006 called Stewards of the Story: The Task of Preaching (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press). The title alone is a gripping reminder that preachers (and, I would add, Christians in general) are responsible to pass on the story of God in accurate form from one generation to the next. Like a family heirloom, the story of God is a priceless narrative that neither begins nor ends with our generation. It was given to us and we have the duty of preserving it and passing it on to those who outlive us.

In the foreword to Massey’s book, Timothy George writes…

“Stewards are trustees, into whose care and responsibility something precious – in this case, something infinitely precious – has been entrusted. In the most basic sense, trustees are not “owners” of the prized bequest they have received. Rather, they hold the bequest in trust, and they have a fiduciary responsibility to pass it on intact to those who will one day receive it in turn from them” (xiii).

God’s story is first and foremost the Biblical story that was at one time transmitted via oral tradition but then put to text over the course of many centuries. But passing on God’s story to our children also means telling them of the great things God has done in our lives and in the lives of saints throughout history.

We will not hide them from their descendants;
    we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
    his power, and the wonders he has done (Psalm 78:4, NIV)

Remember the “telephone game” from when we were kids? A line of kids would have to preserve a sentence from the start of the line to the end of the line by each kid whispering it into the ear of the person next to them. The sentence was almost always completely butchered by the time it reached the end of the line, often unrecognizable from the original statement.

God’s story is way more valuable than the statements given in a telephone game. That’s why oral tradition was a very strict art in ancient times. And when we were able to write it all down, God gave us the gift of holding onto this story in a textual form that was painstakingly written, copied, and preserved by prophets, rabbis, monks, and then the printing press.

Our job as followers of God is to painstakingly preserve this story in it’s original form and pass it on as such. I always say that in preaching and teaching the best strategy is to stick to the Word. It’s hard to go wrong when we stick to God’s Word. We get sloppy and misdirect our hearers if we start making stuff up and/or talk about whatever we think is right and accurate.

Stick to the Word. Hold it close to your heart. Let it transform you. Pass it on in it’s original form. And teach others to do the same.

What toy will be the next “fidget spinner”?

If you work with kids, then you saw the fidget spinner come and go this past summer. The popularity of this fad toy (which has actually been around for quite some time) peaked sometime in June 2017. But by July and August, it seemed that every child in North America had at least a dozen of them, if not, more. Their interest waned. And parents were tired of buying yet another metal and plastic spinny thingy.

Kids are kids. They will always find a new fad toy to enjoy every season. Sometimes that is driven by brilliant marketing campaigns by large toy companies (like the Pet Rock or Tickle-Me-Elmo) or simply by the interests of the children aided by the viral nature of social media (like the Fidget Spinner or the water bottle flipping craze).

I have come across three toys that I predict could be contenders for an upcoming viral fad. Only history will show if I get any of this right. But I have found some toys that are basic in design yet complex enough to capture one’s attention for hours on end. Here they are….

Kendama

The amazing ball-on-string-on-wooden-stick toy that has an infinite array of possible tricks and variations. I have been aware of them for years but never spent much time with one until now. I have some basic tricks down but if you want to see ninja level, watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFiiXkonsXY&t=228s

 

Jacob’s Ladder

This small toy made of wood and ribbon has been around at least since the Colonial period in America. The segments roll downward and appear to magically transform themselves like a magic falling ladder. I’ve seen children and adults stare in mesmerization (is that a word?) at this very simple toy. Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KiIpUUsIsVE

 

Mokuru

This is a stick toy that is weighted in such a way that it rolls and dances in different directions when you manipulate it. Just watch this video to get the gist of it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7TwE4Qv2nQ

Books for Christian Ministry with Children

I’d like to share some resources that have helped me over the years while working with children and families in church ministry contexts.

You’ll notice one book in this list that seems out of place (the Jonestown one). I included that as a narrative about how NOT to lead families and children in ministry. It is a warning to all of us who work with children to steer clear of the vices that plummet leaders into grave destructiveness.

Jerome Berryman. Godly Play. San Francisco: Harper, 1991.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Life Together. New York: Harper, 1954.

Diana Garland. Family Ministry: A Comprehensive Guide, Second Ed. Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2012.

Jeff Guinn. The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2017.

Catherine Stonehouse. Joining Children on the Spiritual Journey. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998.

 

 

Teacher Tip: The Right Question to Ask Yourself

Teacher Tip: How can I help these kids best learn what I’m teaching?

Notice I didn’t say, “How should I teach the content of my topic to these children?” There’s a big difference there. Do you see it?

One is teacher-focused. The other is learner-focused.

Your work as someone who teaches kids in any capacity is not to show off your knowledge to them – or even to put on a good show and entertain them. And it is not to simply download information into their little brains as if you have all the knowledge and they don’t.

Ask yourself, “What is the end-goal here? And what is the most effective way to help these students move from where they are to this end-goal?”

Think about the children: who they are, the context of their community, culture, and family life. Think about how you can best translate the content of your teaching into their world, their minds, and their actions. And do so humbly, admitting that you have a lot to learn from them as well. Then follow up on it and see if they are grasping and living out your hoped-for-outcomes.

Finally, take what you’re learning from that process and do it all over again with the new knowledge you gained from that first cycle. Repeat.

These kids ran away with the circus…

I’m so proud of the first class of students of Camp Carnival RVA! This was the first circus arts camp of its kind ever in the state of Virginia. Every day for two weeks, these kids got to “run away” from home and join a variety of instructors who taught them the ins and outs of circus skills. Don’t worry, their parents/guardians dropped them off and picked them up at the end of each day.

One day, I was driving to the arts camp with my family in the car. Our six-year old asked, “Where are we going, Daddy?”

I said, “To my workshop.”

She said, “Where you build things?”

Then my wife chimed in and said, “Yes, where Daddy builds jugglers!”

I love Sarah’s answer. Myself and several other circus arts instructors had the privilege of building young circus artists. What a joy to share our passions with the younger generation and see the future of variety arts innovating and flourishing.

Here in Richmond, Virginia, there happens to be a large enough contingency of variety artists to sustain a camp like this. Heidi Rugg from Barefoot Puppets taught puppetry. Heather Bailey of Host of Sparrows Aerial Circus taught silks and aerial. Seasoned clown performer Christopher Hudert taught clowning. Natalie Kane of Circular Expressions led the students in hooping. And yours truly got to teach juggling and diabolo workshops. The day camp consisted of classes in the various arts and culminated with a demonstration of skills for the parents on the final day of camp.

Enjoy some pics of camp!

Teaching the Good Samaritan Story to a Modern Audience

JT gets ready to be the Aggie Cadet in the Good Samaritan Story: Texas Style!
I’ve had the chance to teach the Good Samaritan story to groups of children and preteens over the past month. I adapted the Bible story from Luke’s Gospel to speak to the kids in their cultural context. In Mississippi, for example, I orchestrated a skit that had a Mississippi State Bulldog fan kneel down and help an Ole Miss Rebel who had been passed over by two other Rebel fans.

In a skit in Texas I had an Aggie fan get beat up, only to be passed over by two more Aggie fans and then compassionately helped by a Longhorn fan.

I was warned in Mississippi that this would open up a can of worms by bringing up these two opposing fandoms in the skit.

BUT THAT IS THE POINT!

Jesus was opening up a can of worms by telling a story where the bad guy is the good guy. He was trying to show that your neighbor is the person that society tells you is unclean.

In Mississippi, the kids got all fired up for their “team” by shouting and screaming in support when they saw their respective characters in the story. But when the Bulldog knelt down to help the Rebel, it got so quiet you could hear a pin drop. They got it. They understood that even our enemy is our neighbor and that people we think are different than us are not excluded from the command to neighborly love. Our neighbor is NOT just our team, our street, our gang, our state, our country, our skin color. Our neighbor is, well, everyone.

Usually, when someone says “Samaritan” in today’s North American culture, they’re talking about a stranger helping a stranger. We hear about “Samaritans” in the news who stopped on the highway to help someone who got in an accident or other similar stories.

That’s a good start (strangers helping strangers), but it doesn’t capture the whole meaning of Jesus’ teaching in Luke 10:25-37. Jesus was talking about an enemy coming to the aid of Jesus’ Jewish audience.

The Samaritans in the first Century were viewed by Jesus’ Jewish audience as half-breed scum. Contact with them was to be avoided (John 4:9). This is why it was so shocking and revolutionary when Jesus even spoke with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4).

So when an “expert in the law” wanted to feel good about himself for obeying all of God’s commands, he asked Jesus for some clarification about the definition of one’s neighbor (as in, love your neighbor as yourself).

Jesus replied with the famous story:

A man (presumably a Jewish man) goes walking down the road and gets attacked by thieves. He is left for half dead and then gets passed over by a Jewish priest and a Levite (two people who would be expected to help).

Then comes the Samaritan. And this perceived low-life turns out to be the hero who helps.

Jesus shocked his audience by making the enemy the good guy.

Jesus asked the expert in the law who the neighbor was. And he replied, “the one who had mercy on him.” He couldn’t even gather himself to say, “the Samaritan!”

Jesus tells the expert (and all of us), “go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).

Try it out with your group. Find two opposing groups (the more they hate one another the better) in your local context (north of river vs south of the river, this team vs that team, etc.) and tell the story using those groups. Make the guy who gets beat up (and the two passerbys) the majority group in your audience. Then have someone who is perceived by your audience as an enemy be the Samaritan in the story.

It’s bold. But then again, Jesus was bold and revolutionary. The least we can do is try to retell his stories with some contextual accuracy.

Fidget Spinner Bible Lesson

So here’s a way to teach a Bible lesson using a fidget spinner….

What Really Lasts?

Bring and show off as many of these fad toys as you can find (show pictures if you don’t have the actual toy):

  • the hula hoop
  • Lincoln Logs
  • the pet rock
  • the Rubix Cube
  • Slinky
  • the slap bracelet
  • Beanie Babies
  • Super Soakers
  • Webkinz
  • Razor Scooter
  • Silly Bandz
  • the water bottle flip
  • and now……the fidget spinner!!!

Then, if you have some skills, show off a few fidget spinner tricks or have a volunteer come up and do some.

Then read Isaiah 40:6b-8:

“All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. 7 The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers and the flowers fall,  but the word of our God endures forever” (NIV).

So the Bible says that our human existence here on earth is very temporary. People come and people go. The same can be said about the things we make – buildings, clothes, airplanes, and even toys! All these toys come and go. Their fame will only last for a short time. Fads come and go, but the Word of the Lord stands forever….

You see, God is eternal. He has no beginning and no end. The same can be said about His Word – which we have in the form of the Bible.

Don’t put your trust and your joy and your excitement in these temporary man-made things (like fads), put your hope and passion into God and His Word. His Word will last forever, long past these toy fads. So let’s learn from Him and His Word!

Feel free to show this video as part of the lesson – I combine the fads of 2016 and 2017!

Want more Bible lesson ideas for ministry to kids and families? Sign up for my free newsletter here.

Need a speaker/entertainer for your next event? Check out my promo videos here.

Want to learn how to juggle? Here are the basics!….