A Taste of Heaven

A few miles north of Waco, Texas, just off of Interstate 35, sits a Shell gas station and convenience store that looks like any other gas station except for one thing: the line for the convenience store bakery is almost always fifty people deep.

That’s because the bakery, called the Czech Stop, specializes in a little piece of heaven called the kolache.

One summer a few years ago, I was speaking at a Christian camp nearby. Someone from the camp staff declared they were making a “kolache run” and wanted everybody’s order. I had no clue what they were talking about.

“You definitely have to try a kolache, Jesse. It will change your life,” they insisted.

Change my life? The word itself sounded so foreign to me that I didn’t even know what to expect. Was it a donut? Was it some type of specialty drink? Regardless, I told them to surprise me and get whatever everyone else was getting.

Thirty minutes later they returned. The staff member handed me something warm wrapped in wax paper about the size of a softball.

I opened the edible gift and took my first bite.

Yes, it was heavenly.

Inside the soft sweet doughy bread roll was buried a savory chunk of homemade sausage infused with jalapeno bits. I couldn’t believe my mouth.

I was tasting something I had never tasted before. It was a wonderful, mouth-watering experience – something I had never experienced before but now I knew I could have it all over again in the days ahead. It was even large enough to enjoy over half a dozen slow and thoughtful bites.

I was ruined. Now, every time I pass through the Waco area, I have to stop and get me one (or two or three) kolaches. They even come in all sorts of different flavors and fillings. Furthermore, I have become a kolache evangelist, much like the staff member who introduced me to them. Sometimes I come across other kolache lovers and we have a good chat about one of our shared favorite foods.

You know who is better than kolaches? Even infinity times better?

God.

King David challenges us in Psalm 34 to “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8). I love how David mixes two of our five senses (taste and sight) in his song. It’s as if David is saying that experiencing God goes beyond our physical senses and into our spiritual senses – because God is Spirit (John 4:24).

David is like my friend in Texas who told me about a food I had never heard of, knowing that it would change my life if I would just taste it.

When we step out in faith and know God, taste His goodness, experience Him personally, trust Him with our whole selves, we will never be let down. We will see that the LORD is good every single time. This is a promise of God’s Word.

My wife and I struggled with infertility for the first seven years of our marriage. It was hard. We cried a lot – especially when others would tell us that we would make good parents and ask us when we were going to have children. We held the pain inside for many years, not sharing our struggle or pain with anyone but one another.

Then finally one day, we released our pain to God. We shared our infertility story with our close family and friends and asked for their prayers. We had been holding on to our pain without handing it over to God as a prayer request.

You know what happened? About two weeks later, we got pregnant with our first of two miracle daughters, Keziah Grace.

For many years, we were not tasting the goodness of the Lord in that area of our lives. We failed to hand the pain over to Him. When we did, he answered our prayers and delivered a miracle.

I understand that is not the case and story for everyone who struggles with infertility. Every couples’ story and journey is different. There is no perfect formula that says “prayer = miracle baby.” That is simply our story and how God answered our prayers when we finally lifted them up to Him.

But I do believe that whatever the particular story or journey God leads us on, the promise of God is “taste and see = the goodness of the Lord.” Taste and see that God is good. Trust Him with the things in your life that you have never given to him. Trust Him with the things you are holding back. And watch His goodness happen in the creative way that He does in your story.

 

Numbers Memory Verse

This is the blessing to Aaron and his sons that God commanded Moses to tell Aaron. One thing I love about this blessing is that following this blessing, God then tells Moses, “so they [Aaron and his sons] will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them” (v. 27).

Wow. God shines on us so that we may “put his name” on those around us (so that they may be blessed by God). Think about that.

Exodus Memory Verse

Here we are at week 2 of memorizing a verse from each book of the Bible in a year. This week’s verse comes from the Song of Moses and Miriam found in Exodus 15. They are praising God for delivering them from the hands of the Egyptian army after fleeing from them and making it through the parted waters of the Red Sea (while Pharaoh’s soldiers and chariots did not). God alone is God. There is no other. No one, no god, and no thing can hold a candle to his awesome and majestic holiness.

Where’s Haggai?: How to Help Kids Navigate the Bible

It’s on page 1,195 of course!

So yeah, even most adults need the table of contents if the pastor says, “Turn to the second chapter of Haggai as we look at what this prophet says to Zerubbabel.”

And if you work with kids in a church or ministry setting, you know the challenge of trying to help them find their way through their Bibles.

Let’s face it: the Bible can appear daunting. To kids, a standard Bible is a super long book with tiny font and very few pictures. You may have a wide range of ages in the same room. In addition, there is often a wide range of familiarity and unfamiliarity with the Bible within a group of children. This is also known as the levels “Bible literacy.”

Furthermore, many of the children in our ministry settings have electronic devices and are reading physical books less and less and therefore bringing their physical Bibles less often to church and ministry settings.

Today the Bible is readily available as an app on devices. I’ve used it that way many times. But I have found that method to be lacking, in my opinion. First of all, some apps may have distracting “reading plans” or “devotionals” written by popular authors shouting for my attention on the app when I just want to read the Sermon on the Mount. Those might be great devotionals, but sometimes I just want the raw Scripture. I have also found myself distracted by other things on my device once I’ve opened it up, even if I went there to read the Bible in the first place.

So, call me old fashioned, but I like holding the physical book in my hand and flipping through the actual pages of God’s Word. That’s how believers have been reading the Bible for centuries.

When I teach children about the Bible, I encourage them to use a hard-copy Bible, not a Bible on an app. Adults can make up their own minds about app Bible verses physical Bible, but I really do think that children between the ages of zero and pre-teen need to be spared the distraction and given the opportunity by leaders to use real physical Bibles. Most of them have plenty of screen time in their lives already. Let’s use Bible time as an opportunity to turn the screens off and read God’s Word the way its been read for thousands of years.

Ok, moving on from that highly opinionated rant…

I want to share some ideas and resources with you that might help you help kids navigate their physical Bibles.

Types of Bibles

First of all, there are many English versions of the Bible – the NIV, the ESV, the NLT, the KJV, The Message, and more. Some are more literal to the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic words and others are more paraphrastic. Then there are others in the middle of the literal-paraphrase spectrum. It all depends on the translation teams. Work with your fellow church leaders to find a translation that is readable and works for your denomination. I think it is helpful to be consistent within your own local church, camp, or ministry setting and use the same translation (unless there is a good reason to use another translation for a particular context). It helps everyone to be “on the same page!” Let the church know which one you use and why.

Secondly, there are many Bibles written specifically for children. Some of these are picture Bibles or a collection of paraphrased Bible stories. In other posts, I have recommended some of these Bibles for various age ranges:

Early Childhoodhttp://jessejoyner.com/faith-development-resources-early-childhood/

Preschoolhttp://jessejoyner.com/faith-development-resources-preschool/

Early Elementaryhttp://jessejoyner.com/faith-development-resources-early-elementary/

Pre-Teen – http://jessejoyner.com/faith-development-resources-pre-teen/

Finding Something in the Bible

When you ask kids to look up a Bible verse, clearly say the reference and put only the reference (not the verse itself) it up on a projection screen if you have one. If you do not have a projection screen, then write the reference on a board or poster. There are other times to show entire verses on a screen, but if your goal is to help them navigate the Bible, do not put the whole verse on the screen. The reason is obvious. They will figure, “Why do I have to look it up if I can just read it on the screen?” If you just give the reference, they will have to look it up to read it.

I make everyone wait for everyone else. That means the kids who find the verse first need to learn a little patience and wait for their friends. In fact, this is a good opportunity for the kids to help one another. The ones who already found their place in the Bible can help the ones who are still searching.

Start with the table of contents: Once you have read out the reference, encourage the kids to use the table of contents to find the book of the Bible (most every Bible has one). The book titles are all listed, sometimes twice (once in Biblical order and a second time in alphabetical order). If they’re lucky, their Bible may even have the little tabs on the sides of the pages that list each of the sixty six books of the Bible.

Big Number, Little Number: I explain to the kids that Matthew 5:14 means…

The Book of Matthew.

Big number 5 (the chapter).

Little number 14 (the verse, which is sometimes a tiny number).

“Sword Drills”

This is a popular game/activity in many children’s church services and Sunday Schools and it has been around for a while. I do not know who came up with them. Personally, I’m NOT a fan, and I’ll share why after I explain what they are:

Sword drills are where you as the leader read out a Bible reference and then the kids race to find it first in their Bible. The first kid to find the verse usually then stands up or raises their “sword” (Bible in hand) and reads it out loud. Repeat.

The reason I do not like this activity is because I feel like it favors a particular learning style – and it rewards that behaviour in a confusingly spiritual way. The children who are fast at computing numbers and flipping pages and memorizing lists are rewarded with attention, praise, and even the public reading of God’s Word. We risk excluding children who are wired more for patient contemplation or who are simply more new to the skills of navigating their Bibles. There is absolutely no spiritual gain in finding a Bible verse a millisecond faster than your neighbor but we have somehow turned it into a game where we risk sending that message to our children.

Some kids take more time to find a Scripture passage than others, and they shouldn’t lose a game because of that.

Memorizing the Books of the Bible

This is one of the most effective practical skills we can give kids in terms of navigating their Bibles. There are a lot of books in the Bible (sixty six, to be exact). But there are some surprisingly very catchy ways to memorize the list in order so that when you are looking for a book of the Bible, you can simply hum your tune and find your way there.

Here are some of the songs and tunes that I would recommend. These really do work!

North Point Kids Rap Version (I like how they also mention the genres of literature)

JumpStart3 Books of the Bible (I like Jeff’s music here, very hip)

Brent Weber’s Old Testament and New Testament songs are on this CD

This one from Rachel Neuman is set to some catchy tunes

Here’s another rap version

Some Other Random Tricks

General Electric Power Company – this helps me remember four of the most commonly cited Pauline letters: “Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians.”

Psalms is usually in the dead middle of the Bible. Just hold the Bible with the pages facing you and open right in the middle of all the pages.

The New Testament (starting with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) is in the wayyyy back of the Bible. It is usually about 75%-80% of the way through the pages. So if you’re headed for a book in the New Testament, turn to the very back of the Bible. The opposite is true for the Old Testament, which makes up the majority of the Bible and is found first.

The prophets (both major and minor) are found after Psalms and before the New Testament. So if you hear an obscure Hebrew name (like Zephaniah), then find the Psalms in the middle and start moving further back in the Bible, but not too far. If you hit the Gospels (like Matthew), then you’ve gone too far. Remember, Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament.

Help them Discover the Wonder

Kids will work hard at figuring out on their own how to navigate things with which they are fascinated. The greatest gift we can give these kids in Bible navigation skills is a love for and curiosity with God’s Word. They can memorize the list of Bible books all day long, but if there is no interest to find out what’s in those books, they’re not going to care to look. As teachers, leaders, and pastors, we need to be excited about the Bible ourselves and show the kids why we love the contents and the stories. A fun exercise is to share about some of the lesser-known but incredibly dramatic stories of the Bible, like Jael nailing a tent peg into the temple of a sleeping Sisera (Judges 5:24-26)!

I also believe that the Bible is God’s living Word, which means it is not just a historical account of events. There is a great deal of history in the Bible, but it is first and foremost HIS story – the story of God for the past, present, and future. That means that it affects my daily life and that God’s Spirit speaks to me through this Word when I read it and meditate on it. As leaders, we can tell the kids stories about how God has changed our lives and shaped our understanding of Him through the message of His Word.

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.