Juggling is really old.
Did you know that images of jugglers have been discovered on the walls of an ancient Egyptian tomb that is about 4,000 years old? Near the town of modern-day Minya, Egypt, you can visit the Beni Hasan tombs. In tomb number 15, you can see an unmistakable illustration of multiple women juggling balls or rocks of some sort (some to themselves and some with one another). Researcher Billy Gillen believes the juggling had some sort of religious funerary significance to it – like an offering of performance art made on behalf of the deceased (Juggler’s World, Vol. 38, No. 2). The first image is a darkening of the drawing. The second image is a still shot of a video someone took inside the actual tomb.
Other depictions of juggling throughout history have been discovered as well, like this illustration of a juggler on a tomb wall in China that is nearly 2,000 years old (Dahuting Tomb, Eastern Han Dynasty, 25-220 CE, Zhengzhou, Henan province, China):
You can actually see the newly acquired skill of juggling show up as grey matter in a brain scan!
In 2004, a group of scholars published an article in the journal Nature that described how they found new areas of grey matter on brain scans of people who had recently learned how to juggle. Basically, they did brain scans on a group of people. They then split the group into two parts and taught one part of the group how to juggle over a three-month period. The people who learned how to juggle then showed new grey matter in a particular part of the brain while the non-jugglers showed no new grey matter. Furthermore, the new jugglers intentionally let their new skill fade away for the study. They stopped practicing for three months. A final scan was done at that point and the grey matter had faded into a smaller size of grey matter!
This means that when it comes to our brains, if we don’t use it, we literally lose it (that is, the muscle memory we had built up when originally learning something). It also shows what is called the neuro-plasticity of our brains. Our brains can grow and learn new things throughout our entire lives (and conversely lose things that we stop working on). Contrary to popular belief, you can teach an old dog new tricks.
Here is the reference for the article: Bogdan Draganski, Christian Gaser, Volker Busch, Gerhard Schuierer, Ulrich Bogdahn & Arne May. “Neuroplasticity: Changes in grey matter induced by training.” Nature 427, 311-312 (22 January 2004).
Juggling is a powerful force of art.
Pretty much all art has the power to communicate messages in remarkable ways. I have found that the art of juggling is no exception. This does not mean we should necessarily “exploit” art for the purpose of communication. Often, art stands on its own as great art with no intended message. But if I want to teach children about the solar system, character development, gravity, or about loving one’s neighbor, I have found that juggling will not only hold their attention for the message, but it also helps them visualize a point and even retain it for a long period of time.
Let me give an example: One of my first shows when I was just starting out was a Parent’s Night Out event at a church in Marion, Indiana (Hanfield United Methodist Church). I was a young college student at Taylor University just down the road. I was responsible for entertaining of room of about 30 or 40 kids on Valentine’s Day evening while their parents went out on a date. I performed my show, the kids loved it, the parents came back, and everyone went home happy.
So happy, in fact, that the event organizer invited me back the following year for the same event on Valentine’s Day. I was still young and new at performing, so this was my first repeat customer. I figured it had been an entire year since my last show, so there would be no problem performing the same routine…right?
I was wrong. I started my show that second year and noticed that many of the same kids from the previous year were in the crowd. How did I know? They started feeding me the lines of my stories and jokes before the words came out of my mouth! They had remembered my words A YEAR LATER. I was dumbfounded. What if kids could retain everything they learn in school and church the same way?
I realized two truths while performing that show: Number one, juggling is a powerful tool for teaching as it somehow causes children to remember whatever you’re saying with the show with amazing precision. Number two, I needed to work on some new material!
So I often present some sort of story or message along with my show. It might be a Biblical story for a faith-based group or a topic related to hard work and character development for a school assembly. I also perform shows that are strictly entertainment. Those are fun too, because we all know that sometimes, the best thing to do is just relax and laugh without a particular message or agenda being presented.
Which brings me to my final story: I once was asked to perform for a group of mostly Arab children in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem at one of the schools there. The year was 2000, and I was a study-abroad student that semester at Jerusalem University College. What became known as The Second Intafada flared up while I was there. It was a period of intense fighting between the Israeli army and Palestinian fighters.
My host was one of the school’s administrators and showed me around a village that had been destroyed by the fighting the night before I came. These children lived and saw war all around them. I humbly stood before them and performed my juggling show. They laughed and had a great time. So did I.
After the show, my host came up to me and said, “Thank you so much, Jesse. This is exactly what these kids needed. When they go outside for recess, they play funeral. They line up in a procession and pretend to carry a coffin and march through the playground. What you did today made them laugh and brought smiles to their faces. Thank you.”
Play funeral?! Wow. And here I am, just a silly juggler from another country doing something that I enjoy doing. I didn’t have all the answers to their troubles and I certainly don’t have all the answers to war. But the little bit that I did by doing a juggling show somehow helped, even if just in a small way. The small things we do (whether juggling or something else) can be more powerful than we ever know.
Do you juggle? If so, what are some surprising things you’ve learned about juggling in your life? If you don’t juggle, what are some surprising things you’ve learned about life from your interests, hobbies, and work?
“Let the little children come to me.” – Jesus of Nazareth
This past Sunday was a snow day in our part of the country. Most churches closed due to weather. When my wife, daughter, and I made our way downstairs to make some breakfast together, my wife suggested that we have a family devotional time. Since our daughter is six, we have the Jesus Storybook Bible, a summarized version of the Bible that tells the major stories on a level that children can easily understand. Sarah, my wife, thought it would be nice to read a chapter from that book and then say a prayer together.
It was looking like an idyllic family devotional time until we told our daughter about the idea. For some reason (maybe because she had just woken up and because of the magical snow outside), she was not in the mood to have a family devotional time together. She started to cop an attitude and resisted the idea of reading a Bible story together and praying together.
My mind and heart raced for a response. I knew that I had two primary ways of responding: be a dictator and insist that our daughter cheer up and join us in this spiritual moment OR give her the freedom to choose whether or not to join us parents in a devotional reading and prayer.
I chose the latter. I decided that I did not want to force or demand participation in something so special as a time of worship. Instead, I chose the option of invitation. I invited her to the table with us, knowing that she could freely opt out without any hard feelings.
So my wife and gathered at the table, held hands, and started praying. Our daughter was in next room, free to do as she pleased.
While Sarah and I were praying, something beautiful happened…..with our eyes closed, we suddenly felt a small hand join in on top of ours. It was our daughter, freely accepting the invitation to join us in worship. My heart melted for a moment and then we continued our prayer and then read some of the devotional book together. From that point forward, our daughter was actively engaged and the attitude was gone.
I tell this story knowing that not every similar case ends that way. But I couldn’t help but notice a general principle at play that I have noticed when working with children and families in worship settings (or humans of all ages for that matter).
Here is the principle: the idea of invitation. I believe it is critical to invite people to worship and engage with Jesus rather than to force, coerce, or bribe people to such things. For those of us who lead worship experiences, that can feel risky. What if nobody wants to come? What if nobody responds? What if they all walk away? The answer is, it doesn’t matter. What matters is stepping out and worshiping God in Spirit and in truth and offering a free invitation to anyone else who wants to join in. God will work in the hearts of those He is calling to join for that particular time. And if some do not join in at that time, that’s fine. God may still be working in their hearts, just on a different pace or with a different big-picture story.
I wonder if many people are resistant to the Church and to God today because at some point in their lives (probably their childhoods) they felt forced or coerced to do something spiritual. The last thing we want to do to children is communicate the message that God is a dictator that makes them do things they don’t want to do.
Remember that Jesus said “Let the little children come to me” (Mark 10:14; emphasis mine). He did not say, “Make the little children come to me.” The irony in that passage is that the disciples were actually holding the children back. The children wanted to play with Jesus. And Jesus simply said “Let them come to me.”
I have written a 13-lesson curriculum called “Big God, Little Kids.” It is a series of lessons built around stories of God doing big things through ordinary kids in the Bible. You are free to use it for any non-profit ministry setting such as Sunday School, Children’s Church, Vacation Bible School, or the like.
I have provided the introduction and a preview lesson right here. If you want the rest of the lessons, those are free too. To get the rest, simply sign up for my once-a-month newsletter and email me that you did so (these instructions are also at the end of the free preview).
Click the link below to access. Enjoy!
I attended a community event a few weeks ago at a local theater. Before the event started, a quiz game was running on the big screen. And anyone could join in and play if they had a personal electronic device and the game code entered into their web browser on the device. The game code was posted on the big screen before the game started. Lots of people in the theater played. The game kept score of the players based on correct answers and the speed in which they answered. At the end of the game, the winner was posted on the screen and the young man came forward to receive a prize.
The online platform used was called Kahoot. It is an app, but it also has an old-fashioned website so that players can play without having to download the app or even register with an email and password (which I love).
I had an event at which I was speaking a few days later, and I dove into Kahoot to find out how to use it myself at this event. I was so glad I did, because I found out how much fun it is for both the teacher and the learners.
So here is how it works. First of all, it is free (for now…currently they make money by offering it to large corporate clients who use it for various purposes). While you do not need to register an email and password in order to play, do you have to register if you want to administer Kahoot games. Once you sign up for an account, you can write your own trivia games or select one from the thousands that have been uploaded by different users. You can browse by keyword, and you can pre-scan the questions and answers of each uploaded game so you can see if it is one you want to use or not.
This event I spoke at was a family retreat for a church in Texas, so we did trivia games in three different categories: Bible, Texas facts, and Disney. The crowd loved it. Since the event was for families, we played the option of one device per team (per family) and everyone gathered around the device and tapped the multiple choice selection on their device. You can also set up the game to be every-person-for-themselves, but that only works if everyone has their own device.
Apparently, there are many more uses for Kahoot than just trivia games. That is nice because trivia can sometimes be merely that: trivial. You can use it for crowd-sourcing, opinion gathering, voting/polling, testing, and real-time feedback and input on public speaking presentations. Basically, if you need to gather information from a crowd, whether in a fun game or in something more serious, this app lets you do that in a simple and user-friendly way.
Check it out and discover all the great uses here: kahoot.it
Finding quality resources that help nurture the faith development of children and families can sometimes be difficult. This is the first post in a series, broken up by age-level focus, that can be of help to children, family members, and ministry leaders as they navigate the pilgrimage of the Christian faith. I will start with early childhood (birth to two years) and work up to the PreTeen age group. I have included a variety of mediums throughout the series such as text, music, toys/games, and online resources.
BIRTH TO TWO YEARS
Card, Michael. Sleep Sound in Jesus, Compact disc (CD). Brentwood, TN: Sparrow Records, 1989.
Prolific Christian songwriter Michael Card created this album of soft and melodic lullabies with rich lyrics proclaiming blessings and prayers over little children (http://www.christianbook.com/sleep-sound-in-jesus-compact-disc/0006176933/pd/CD086).
Currie, Robin, and Cindy Adams. Baby bible storybook. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2003.
This book puts a series of major Bible stories into the simplest terms so the parent can read them to the child as the child looks at the illustrated picture. A scripture reference is given at the top and at the bottom is a very short prayer that the parent can say as they pray with their child (http://www.amazon.com/Baby-Bible-Storybook-Robin-Currie/dp/0781400767).
First Steps in Worship. Founded by Tracy Rader.
This is a company that produces ready-to-go kits of worship resources for use in infant and toddler worship settings. Products include kits of books and manipulatives such as “Baby Bedtime Blessings,” “Cradle Choir,” “Pass-It-On Praise,” and “Wiggle Into Worship.” The tote bags and the manipulatives are soft and washable for easy cleaning in between uses (firststepsinworship.com).
Henley, Karen, Dennas Davis, and Randall Dennis. My first hymnal: 75 Bible songs and what they mean. Brentwood, TN: Sparrow Corporation, 1994.
This small hardback book includes very simple hymn and Christian song melodies along with a brief explanation/devotion about the lyrics. It is meant for the parent to sing to their child and then read the short devotional thought to the child (http://www.amazon.com/My-First-Hymnal-Bible-Songs/dp/0917143353).
Morganthaler, Shirley K. Right from the start: A parent’s guide to the young child’s faith development. Revised edition. St. Louis: Concordia, 2001.
This text for parents and leaders is a tool for understanding the faith development of children from both a spiritual perspective as well as from the field of neuroscience (http://www.amazon.com/Right-Start-Parents-Childs-Development/dp/0570052777).
Nederveld, Patricia L. God loves me storybooks: The Bible in 52 storybooks. Revised edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Faith Alive, 2015.
This collection of short books uses both art of Bible stories as well as photographs of young children to help kids make the connection between Bible stories and themselves. Parents can read one storybook each week of the year to their children or go at whatever pace they prefer (http://www.faithaliveresources.org/Products/001400/god-loves-me-storybooks-revised-edition.aspx).
Saxon, Terrell. Baby blessings: A faith-based parenting guide, birth to two. Colorado Springs: Standard Publishing, 2003.
This resource covers multiple aspects of early child development from cognitive to spiritual. It has a section of practical activities that parents can do with their children to help nurture their faith development (http://www.amazon.com/Baby-Blessings-Faith-Based-Guide-Parents/dp/0784713588).
Thomas, Mack. The first step Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1994.
This 445-page condensed paraphrase of the Bible takes major stories from the Old Testament and New Testament and retells them in three sentences or less per page. Each sentence is usually less than ten words. Each story is accompanied by large illustrations depicting the Biblical scene. There is a helpful section in the back called “Teaching the Bible to the Very Young,” which gives parents tips on how to use the book and talk about the Bible with infants and toddlers (https://books.google.com/books/about/The_First_Step_Bible.html?id=KlRuXaTKraYC).
Top Ten Christian Songs for Little Kids, compiled by Jesse Joyner (April 24, 2012).
I once posted a blog of what I subjectively feel are the “top ten” Christian songs for little kids. As of this writing, that post alone has received over sixteen thousand hits, which tells me that people are interested in good classic songs that teach children about God and help them connect with God. If you follow this link, you can find more links that provide a version of each song on YouTube as well as an explanation as to why I think that song should be included in the list: (http://jessejoyner.com/top-10-christian-songs-for-little-kids/). Here is the list itself:
Count Your Blessings
Deep and Wide
The Butterfly Song
Hallelu, Praise Ye the Lord
I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in My Heart
He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands
This Little Light of Mine
Jesus Loves the Little Children
Jesus Loves Me
Zobel-Nolan, Allia. Lift the flap nativity. Illustrated by Tace Moroney. Reader’s Digest: New York. 2001.
As the title suggests, this book tells the Christmas story using simple words and flap-opening so the child can physically interact with the story as they hear it from their parents. The illustrations are colorful but not too bright. The art form has a level of refreshing minimalism so the focus is on the relevant characters and storyline rather than distracting cartoonish embellishments (http://books.simonandschuster.com/Lift-the-Flap-Nativity/Allia-Zobel-Nolan/Lift-the-Flap/9780794435271).
*This list comes directly from a paper I wrote for a class at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL in March 2016. The class was ES 7524 (Education and Ministry Experiences for Children) taught by Dr. Magdalene Larson.
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.
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.
Yesterday, I worked together with my five-year old daughter to set up a little prayer station in our house. My wife and I got the idea from her school, which uses a lot of hands-on activities that teach kids about spirituality.
I’ve always been a little skeptical of creating ritualistic prayer spaces because I want kids to know that they can pray anywhere, anytime, all the time.
But, I went ahead and tried this prayer corner idea and I was amazed at how excited my daughter got about it. There was something tangible she could do and touch while she did something that is very deep, abstract, and invisible. Truth be told, my wife and I got excited about praying at the prayer station too. As adults, we often treat prayer as a perfunctory chore. But this prayer station helps touch the human senses in ways that provides concrete metaphors for unseen realities.
So far, it has done wonders for us in terms of reminding us to pray and as a gathering point for our family to joyfully pray together.
Here’s what we did:
- We got a glass plate and a miniature clear glass jar (like a small Mason jar).
- We found some smooth decorative rocks that we had in a drawer. For you, these could be any kind of rocks. We call them the “prayer rocks.”
- We placed the prayer rocks around the jar on the plate.
- We found a battery-powered votive candle (that you can get at any hobby/craft store) and placed it on one end of the plate.
- We explained the idea to our daughter and allowed her to to choose a spot in the house to put the prayer station.
Here’s the way to use it:
- Whenever anyone wants to, they can go to the prayer station for as long or as short of a time they like. You can go alone or with someone else. It is always voluntary. And it should never be something we “show off” to look spiritual (Matthew 6:5-6).
- Light the votive candle.
- Grab a rock and say a prayer. There is nothing magical or spiritual in the rock. But it can help us focus and act as reminder that God hears our every little prayer. The rock can also be a symbol that God is our rock and our foundation. The prayer can be either silent or out loud. You can take whatever posture you like.
- Drop the prayer rock in the jar and stay as long as you like. There’s something about the sound of the glass bead rocks in the glass jar that adds a sort of song to the prayer.
- Turn off the votive candle.
- When the jar is full or the all the rocks are used up, re-set the rocks to the original position of being spread around the empty jar. Before you re-set it, take in the sight of the full jar as a reminder of all the prayers that God has heard and His faithfulness to answer.
If you try this, I would encourage you to put your own spin or family personality on this station. Also, though we haven’t added the following yet, I think it would be helpful to have some prayers on hand nearby in a drawer if someone wants to pray a pre-written prayer (either from Scripture or a good prayer book). You could also frame the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) and place it at the prayer station.
This could also easily be turned into a Worship Response Station for large groups at church or at camp. You could set up tables with small rocks all over them. Have the kids say a prayer and then place (not throw 🙂 the rocks in a wooden bowl or a similar type of container.
I still firmly believe in prayer as something we can do anywhere and anytime (John 4:21-24). But even Jesus spoke of the prayer closet (Matthew 6:6) and he himself had the Garden of Gethsemane (“Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives” – Luke 22:39). So why not create a Gethsemane in our homes for our families, the very foundational place of spiritual growth for our children?
Want more ideas for crafts and stations for children’s ministry in the church and in the home? Sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter here.
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!
Here’s the file of the image:
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.
- 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).
- 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).
- 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.
- 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?
I just got back from three shows in the greater Atlanta area over the weekend. I had a wonderful time visiting three churches. At each one, I got to perform my show and share about the story of Christ. My prayer is that God’s Word will be planted in good soil in the hearts of those who heard. Here are some pics from one of the shows (for Redeemer Sports at First Redeemer Church in Cumming, GA):