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.
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….
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
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
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
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.
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
- the slap bracelet
- Beanie Babies
- Super Soakers
- 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!….
Curt Nelson has a video that shows kids eating from a bag of M&M’s, not knowing that there are skittles hidden in the bags. The reactions are fun and it makes for a good intro to a Bible lesson about how we should “taste and see that the Lord is good.”
Check out the video here:
I do a lot of large group events. I’m always on the lookout for games that are fun and easy for huge crowds. When people come together in large groups, there is a lot of potential energy that can be tapped in the form of socialization, laughter, competition, and shared human experiences.
So here are some of the resources I have found to be particularly helpful in leading fun experiences for crowds of people:
This organization creates and sells (at super affordable rates) crowd games that you can run on your computer and then project on the big screen. Browse around at all they have to offer – http://crowdcontrolgames.com/
How about crowd thumb wrestling?! Invented by monochrom and officially called “massive Multiplayer Thumb-Wrestling.” Here is that game led by a game designer on the TED stage….
You can also lead your crowd in making the sounds of a thunderstorm. This video shows a choir on stage doing it. But you can just as easily lead an audience of any size in the same exercise:
I have also compiled a blog post category of group games over the years on this blog. There are over twenty entries and growing, so read through all these great crowd game ideas such as “Heads or Tails” and “Bring Me This.” Click here.
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!