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.

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!

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

Scripture Memory for Kids

I have an acronym for scripture memory that I use at camps: MVOTW. It stands for “Memory Verse of the Week.” You pronounce it, “muh-vah-twuh.” Kids love saying it and we put motions to the words to help us remember whatever verse we are working on. Most camps and vacation Bible schools have a theme verse or main verse for the week. So I review that verse multiple times a day with the kids. I have found it to be a very effective way to teach kids how to memorize Scripture. One year, some girls recited a MVOTW to me that they had learned two or three years prior. They still remembered the words and the motions.

So if you lead your kids in a MVOTW, put some motions to each word or phrase (try to put in some or all American Sign Language if you can). Then quote the scripture reference, and finish it off with a hearty, “muh-vah-twuh!” It works. Trust me.

Here is a video of a group doing the MVOTW at Highland Lakes Camp in Texas last summer:

 

What Cain and Jesus Share

Stained-Glass-Panel-the-Birth-of-Cain-and-Abel
A stained glass depiction of the births of Cain and Abel. Germany, late 14th Century.

What?! You’re comparing Cain, the first murderer, to Jesus? How dare you!

Follow me here. I was writing a paper about ministry with children and I suddenly discovered in the Cain and Abel story something I had never seen before…

You probably already knew that Cain was the first child to be born (remember, Adam and Eve were created). But what Eve said upon his birth is pretty remarkable. She said something that leads us to conclude that Cain and Jesus were both gifts of God’s grace, each in a unique way.

Here’s the excerpt from my paper….

When we look at Scripture, the first children in the Bible were Cain and Abel. Their parents, Adam and Eve, had already been banished from the Garden of Eden due to their disobedience and sin towards God (Gen 3:16-24). In this new reality of paradise lost, Adam and Eve conceived their first child, Cain. Despite having a broken relationship with God, Eve proclaims, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man” (Gen 4:1; italics mine). These are the first post-Edenic words spoken in Scripture, which I believe speaks to the significance of ministry with children. In this newly fallen world, our predecessor Eve viewed children as a gift from God. Even Cain’s name in Hebrew is a wordplay intended to sound like the word for “to bring forth” (Coppes 1980, 797-798). This means that God’s first gift of grace following our sin was a child. We turned from God, and the way he extended an offer of grace was through a baby.

Does that sound familiar? Thousands of years later, despite our sin, God gifted us all with the baby Jesus Christ as the ultimate gift of His grace.

This establishes the point that children are both a gift from God as well a means of God’s grace to adults (and other children, for that matter). Most adults in this world and in the church community understand that children are a gift, but how often do we view them as channels through which God extends His grace? When we view children in this way, we realize that as adults, we need children as much as they need us.

Citation:

Coppes, Leonard J. “Cain.” Theological wordbook of the old testament. Vol 2. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke eds. Chicago: Moody Press, 1980.

Valentine’s Day Lesson for Children’s Church

Here is a brief presentation I gave for the kids at my church on Valentine’s Day 2016. I do some juggling in it, but if you give a similar lesson (which you are free to do, of course), just insert your own version of something impressive to demonstrate to the children instead of juggling. The message is the same either way. Or you can just show this video to your kids if you like. Hope you enjoy!

Four Ways to Help Kids Get Excited About the Bible

(Picture above thanks to JaredFanning.com). Also found at http://visual.ly/top-10-most-read-books-world

Here’s the file of the image:

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In my previous post, I shared about a large group game idea called “Super Bible Trivia.” I wanted to follow that up with a few practical tips that help us share the wonder of God’s Word with children. Here are a few ways that we as leaders can help bring to light the joy of reading and studying God’s Word.

  1. One place to start is to explain that the Bible is indeed God’s message to us (“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” – 2 Timothy 3:16, NIV).
  2. Use Bibles that are in an easy to read translation. There are many publishers who now make Bible versions for all age and reading levels. There are also Bibles out there with stunning visuals and graphics (even comic book Bibles and magazine Bibles). 
  3. Show kids that the Bible is not a boring book of old fashioned stories. Show them the thrilling narratives of the Bible, including the lesser known stories. Some kids think they have heard it all. They think that once they know Noah’s Ark and David defeating Goliath then they know it all. Ask them if they know about the sword that got swallowed up into the gut of a king on the toilet (Judges 3). Or see if they know the story of the woman who nailed a man’s head to the ground with a tent stake (the very next chapter: Judges 4). Kids love these stories if you tell them.
  4. Of course, all these stories lead up to or look back to the apex of The Story, which is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Show the kids how the Old Testament points ahead towards the cross (see Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53, for just two of many examples of clear Christological prophecies).

What are some ways that you instill a joy and fascination for God’s Word in the hearts of children? What have you learned about God’s Word from children?

Large Group Game: Super Bible Trivia

I’ve played a fun game with large groups of kids over the years that I call “Super Bible Trivia!” This contestant-driven stage quiz game is more of a staged drama than an actual serious quiz game. But it is set up so that the kids think it is a normal quiz game at first. Don’t worry, they’ll all pick up on the fun and join along pretty quickly. The goal is to get kids excited about the Bible.

Remember that this game is just a tool. Ultimately, I believe the Holy Spirit instills in us a joy for God’s Word – by God’s grace. God’s Word is exciting in and of itself. We don’t need to make it exciting. I do believe, however, in creatively facilitating activities that foster a love for God’s Word.

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Basically, it is a quiz show with two contestants from the audience who have to answer a series of questions. Pick a boy and a girl and tell them they are playing for the boys and the girls, respectively. The groups can shout out answers to their contestant.

The first question is a countdown of the most read books over the last fifty years (from 10 to 1). Most kids will not know the top ten list, so they will just stand there confused as you ask for each ranking and then read the answers off (keep reading below for the list of questions I use).

Finally, you ask them “What is the best selling book of all time in the history of the world?” They may give you a blank look again. Or some kids may answer, “the Bible!” Either way, when you finally confirm the right answer (the Bible), you jump all over the place and have adult leaders as cheerleaders running all over the place with lights and noisemakers going off.

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After a great deal of celebrating, you return to the game for the next question. At this point, the answer to every question is “the Bible.” After the first few questions, the contestants see the pattern and start laughing along as you ask more questions. Whenever they answer, “the Bible,” you and the other leaders start going crazy and cheering for the answer. Eventually, all the kids will get into the celebrating of each answer as well. You can have as much fun as you can handle!

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If you want to have a surprise ending, make the final question (after 8 more questions where the answer is “the Bible”) something like, “What is the longest story book ever written?” (saying “story” eliminates encyclopedias and the like). The kids will probably say, “the Bible.” But that is incorrect. It is actually In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust. Then you can finish off by saying, “But that book is not nearly as great as…… the Bible!!!!!”

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It makes for a lot of fun and noise. The idea is not to make fun of the Bible, but rather the opposite: to have fun getting super excited about the Bible. It is a great lead-in for a lesson about God’s Word and its importance in our daily lives and in the scope of eternity.

So here are the quiz questions:

  1. What are the top ten most read books over the last fifty years? Note: go through the list individually, which each ranking being one question. Here is the source of the list I’m using for this.Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 8.38.32 AM
  2. What book is actually a collection of 66 books and is considered God’s Word to us?
  3. What book has been translated (at least in part) into nearly three thousand languages, which is far more than any other book on the planet?
  4. On what book do presidents place their right hand when they take the oath of office in the United States?
  5. What is the primary object that is meant to be placed in a pulpit when a pastor is preaching?
  6. What can be found in the nightstand drawer of thousands of hotels across the country?
  7. What ancient book has the most number of ancient copies still in existence today?
  8. How do you pronounce these five letters when put together into an English word: B-I-B-L-E?
  9. Video Question! (show a slide of a picture of a Bible and ask the kids to name what they see).
  10. What is the longest story book ever written? (answer is NOT the Bible – but rather In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust). But again, you can finish off by saying, “But that book is not nearly as great as…… the Bible!!!!!”

Have fun and let me know how it goes. In my next post, I’ll list out some practical ideas on how to get kids excited about God’s Word (that are not game related).

By the way, I later discovered that there is a website by the same name (Super Bible Trivia) that is a great resource for Bible Trivia questions. My game idea is not related to that website, but I would still highly recommend that site. You can try out their quizzes here.

 

 

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The Role of the Children’s Pastor

I’m reading a great book on ministry with children right now called Children Matter by Scottie May, Beth Posterski, Catherine Stonehouse, and Linda Cannell (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 2005).

childrenmatter_md

Here is a quote that made me stop in my tracks:

“Our responsibility is to create an environment in which the child can learn about and enter into God’s story, respond to the Holy Spirit, and experience the presence and leading of God” (Children Matter, p. 34).

Read that again. This is super important for Children’s Pastors/Ministers/Leaders. Notice that is does not say that we are the ones with all the knowledge to pass down to the children. We are not the ones with all the answers and the ability to make a child’s faith grow.

Our job is to make space for God to do what He does.

Our job is to point towards God.

Our job is to walk together in faith with these kids, set the stage for God’s works of grace, and get out of the way.

Jesus himself commands us not to “hinder” the children, but instead to simply let them come to Him (Matt 19:14).

I know this sounds abstract, so I will give one practical example to explain what I mean by this. One thing that I have found to be a perfect way to “make space” for kids to encounter God organically is something called Worship Response Stations. These are tactile, exploratory stations that give kids opportunities to connect with God in creative ways after a music and teaching time in worship.

I have an entire other post about Worship Response Stations that you can read here.

What are some ways that you as a leader make space for kids to encounter God?
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