Do you do Santa Claus?

This is a common question I hear parents asking one another at Christmas time. The question comes from different perspectives and experiences that people have had with the story, tradition, and character of that jolly man, Santa.

We’ve all heard stories of the proverbial thirteen year-old kid (or older) who finds out from their friends that Santa is not real and then cries for days both because there really is no Santa Claus and because they felt lied to all those years.

We also know the stories of the “magic” of Christmas that children feel and the joy of watching them believe in a generous and mysterious character that comes down their chimney and leaves gifts and takes cookies.

Here are three primary responses to the question that I’ve seen/heard. There, of course, is a spectrum in between these three major categories. Perhaps you fall into one of them. I would love to hear where you might be on this scale and why…..

  1. YES: Of course there’s a Santa Claus (wink)! These are the parents who play the game and are all in. They make sure the narrative of Santa lives on in the imaginative minds of their children. Many of these parents try to prolong the magic of Christmas as far as they can into the childhoods of their kids. To these parents, Santa is a good person who does good and is a good example to everyone in that he generously gives gifts at Christmas time. The presents under the tree are undeniably from Santa Claus. These parents may never reveal to their kids that Santa is imaginary and simply let their children figure things out as they age. The extremist parents of this view still believe in Santa themselves 🙂
  2. KINDA: We’re not big about Santa Claus, but he’s unavoidable, so we’re not against him either. These are the parents who try to take the middle ground of wanting their kids to enjoy the Santa narrative of Christmas while at the same time not wanting to “lie” to their children. The presents under the tree may or may not be from Santa Claus, and the parents do not go to great lengths to keep the fictionality of Santa from their children. Some parents might try to “redeem” the story of the historical figure Saint Nicholas and tie that into the Biblical meaning of Christmas.
  3. NO: We don’t ‘do’ Santa Claus. This imaginary character distorts the message of Christmas. These are the parents who have either a theological conviction against the glorification of this ever-evolving fictional character or a moral conviction against what they consider to be lying to their children (or both). ALL the presents under the tree are from actual people (like from Mommy to daughter or Uncle Joe to Sally). The extreme side of this view avoids all depictions of and interactions with Santa Claus in an effort to focus on the Biblical story of Christmas and the person of Jesus Christ.

The interesting thing about these three views (and all the others in between) is that we all share the public sphere together, and the question comes up as to how to approach the topic of Santa in public regardless of one’s personal position. If you are a part of position three, should you proactively “ruin” the story for others when given the chance? If you adhere to position one, should you (like Will Farrell’s Elf character) be actively proselytizing others to believe in Santa Claus?

So how do you respond when someone says, “Do you ‘do’ Santa Claus?” What do you explain to your children and at what ages? What are your reasons for doing so?

If you’re curious as to where Sarah and I fall on this spectrum, you can find some clues to our answer in a previous post I made about Santa Claus here. But I am more interested in all the other different perspectives out there. So feel free to share.

His Name Endures Forever: An Object Lesson

I’d like to share a worship response object lesson we organized at summer camp last month. It was a little risky because we had about 300 campers and it could have gotten chaotic, but the kids did great and the end result was very moving.

First of all, when I say, “worship response,” I’m referring to something we do after the sermon/teaching time in a worship service. The band played soft worship music while the kids rotated around the room at various stations that helped them respond to God’s Word in a variety of ways. I go into more depth about this general idea in another post.

One of the stations this particular evening of camp invited the kids to write things down at two different tables. The theme of the camp was “I Am” and we looked at some of the “I Am” statements made by God in Scripture.

Table number one had poster boards, permanent markers, and a basket of cards wherein each card listed a name of God found in Scripture (“Counselor”, “Redeemer”, “Alpha and Omega”, “Good Shepherd”, etc.). The kids would come to this table, grab a card, and write what they saw on the card onto the poster (using a permanent marker).

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On table number two, we had a large white dry erase board and some dry erase markers. The children were invited (if they chose to do so) to come forward and anonymously write a sin or struggle on the white board using the dry eraser (see where we’re going with this?).

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When all the campers had written what they wanted at the two tables, we brought the posters and white board on stage. I instructed the band to play What Can Wash Away My Sins? Nothing But the Blood of Jesus while a child wiped away the sins and struggles from the dry erase board. It was a beautiful moment.

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Then, as you can probably guess, we brought up the posters with the names of God all over them. I told the same child to try erasing it with the dry eraser. You should have seen the look on his face! He thought I was crazy for telling him to do so. But I wanted to make the point clear: as he attempted to erase the poster with God’s names, nothing was coming off. It was all permanent! And that is exactly the point of this illustration: Jesus wipes away our sins, but His name endures forever!

Your name, LORD, endures forever, your renown, LORD, through all generations. -Psalm 135:13

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Photo Credits to Christopher Seay of Next Level Kids Camp in Texas (all except the last photo).

Faith Development Resources: Early Childhood

INTRODUCTION

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

f67d04fc0ea394621a87b52e2edff58eCard, 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).

865984Currie, 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).

MI0000766272Henley, 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

Father Abraham

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

SetRatioSize400400-9780794435271Zobel-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.

The Caterpillar and the Butterfly: Easter Activity

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This family or children’s ministry idea comes from Ivy Beckwith, the author of one of my assigned readings for my class at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School about ministry with children.

Here is the description as I put it in my paper. I would encourage you to take this simple idea and make your own creative family memories out of it…..

Another practical way families can foster faith formation for one another is through ritual and tradition. Ivy Beckwith suggests many ideas for how families can do creative God-focused activities at home that sometimes turn into recurring rituals and traditions. She says that rituals foster things such as identity and healing within faith and family communities (Beckwith 2010, 78-80). One of the many ritual ideas she gives is an Easter tradition where the family makes butterflies and caterpillars out of craft materials. The caterpillars can hang on a tree leading up to Easter and then they are replaced with the butterflies on Easter morning. The family can then discuss the meaning of Easter and the new life we have in Jesus Christ (86). Oftentimes the best faith formation between parents and children happens in the unexpected moments – like while the crafts are being made, rather than during more formal settings such as the big reveal of the butterflies on Easter morning. Again, the role of the parents is to create environments and opportunities for God to reveal himself in any moment of the day – whether planned or mundane – and then to be ready at any moment to “give a reason for the hope they have in Christ” (1 Peter 3:15).

Citation:

Beckwith, Ivy. Formational children’s ministry: Shaping children using story, ritual, and relationship. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010.

What Cain and Jesus Share

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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.

Is Jesus Our Superhero?

A metaphor thWonderworldComics3at some people use for describing Jesus Christ is that he is our superhero. But, I feel that the metaphor (like most) breaks down here – and so much so that I am uncomfortable saying that Jesus is my superhero (and teaching kids the like).

Here’s why: I believe that Jesus is beyond the category of superheroes. He alone is God (John 1:14). To call him a superhero is to limit him to a man-made box that likens him to our understanding of superheroes in popular culture.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14

Furthermore, I think the metaphor is backwards. Instead of “Jesus is my superhero,” the aim of superheroes is that most are written to be godlike or to have supernatural powers. So it is not Jesus trying to be like them. It is them trying to be like Jesus.

In fact, I believe that the story of God’s salvation history is the greatest story ever told. I also believe that it is historically true. Comic book authors write about the struggle between good and evil and the godlike characters who wage battles using superhuman powers. If there is anything compelling or attractive about these comic book narratives, I believe it is because we are naturally drawn to themes that resemble the greatest story ever told (the Bible), not the other way around. I believe we are drawn because we are wired (by God) to yearn for the deepest realities of finding redemption from darkness in Him.

Granted, most comic book writers are not trying to write about characters who want to be Jesus.  The comic book universe is a fictional fantasy world. Jesus, we believe, is a true historical person. And that is another huge difference that makes this metaphor break down even more…

When you mix fantasy with reality, especially with children, you can potentially cause a blurred line between the two. I think fantasy and fiction (and comics, for that matter) are great literary genres and we should encourage kids to enjoy great literature, whether textual or graphic/visual.

I would rather keep these two worlds (truth and fiction) separate so as not to make children think that Jesus is “limited” to the superhero status of comic worlds. Likewise, I don’t want kids to think that Spiderman is their divine savior.

For you are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God. Psalm 86:10

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Talking to Kids About Martin Luther King, Jr.

The great thing about a holiday is not just the fact that many people get the day off, but it also carves a memorial into the annual calendar that commemorates something or someone that we as a society deem important. When children see that they have a day off of school and that people are celebrating something, many of them naturally ask, “why?”

That is why holidays are brilliant. They ensure that certain topics and values will be passed down through the generations. Even if the adults forget to cover a certain topic in raising children, the holiday topics will almost always come up (year after year) and the children will learn about them.

For Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we are reminded of the great values of love, respect, diversity, overcoming the impossible, justice, faith, courage, community, and all sorts of other positive teachable topics. What comes with his story is also the harsh truth of sin and darkness in the world – topics such as hate, racism, injustice, murder, terrorism, and the like.

Martin Luther King, Jr. giving his "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, DC.
Martin Luther King, Jr. giving his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, DC.

We told our daughter (who is five now) that there was no school on Monday because it was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. That sparked her curiosity about the subject. She had already learned a little about him in school recently, but she wanted to know more when we were talking about it in the car.

Here are some of the things she asked (progressively as I was answering each question:

“What did he do?”

“Is he still alive?”

“How did he die?”

“Why did someone kill him?”

“Where was he when he died?”

As you can see, she was very curious about his life and the circumstances of his death. I chose not to sugarcoat anything and answer her in a very honest matter-of-fact way. She may be five, but I have learned that even young children are ready to hear about the harsh realities of this sinful world in which we live. Of course I’m not graphic in describing how he died, but I tried to be straightforward about it – and she was able to understand and handle it well.

Before I show you how I answered, I wanted to jot down a few ideas on what I feel are helpful things to keep in mind when speaking to young children about tough, dark subjects. I don’t claim to have all the answers. I’m just sharing what appeared to work with our daughter…..

  1. Be honest – the worst thing we can do to our children is lie to them and make them think there is nothing bad or evil in the world. They will wake up to that reality someday and it is best if they hear it first from their parents.
  2. Be straightforward – I don’t see any value in beating around the bush or creating a fog of confusion in her mind by using ambiguous generalizations such as “we need to be nice to other people.” It’s better to be specific and use MLK Day (and every other day) to combat racism in its face and talk with children as early as possible about treating everyone with love and respect no matter their skin color.
  3. Be God-focused – we believe in God. So did Martin Luther King, Jr. In fact, he was known for saying that the arc of the universe curves towards justice. And that curve is because of the hand of God. Full justice and love may not be evident at this moment, but God’s finger is pointing in that direction. We shall follow, and he shall lead.

Here is the gist of the answers I gave:

“What did he do?” A lot of people are mean to other people just because of the color of their skin. He challenged those ideas and gave a speech about a dream he had. He had a dream that little girls of different skin colors would hold hands and play together in the playground. And guess what? That dream came true (I said that not to say that all is well, but to point to the example that she knows, which is the fact that she does play with and hold hands with children of different skin colors). Now there are no more laws that black people need to use different water fountains or bathrooms than white people. (We will continue to explain to her that not all things are completely better between people of different skin colors and there is still a lot of work to do to make sure there is equality and community amongst our diversity in this nation).

“Is he still alive?” No. 

“How did he die?” Somebody shot him with a gun and killed him.

“Why did someone kill him?” The man hated him and did not like what Martin Luther King, Jr. taught and wanted to keep doing things that were very bad for black people.

“Where was he when he died?” I think he was on a balcony of a motel in Memphis, Tennessee.

I added, “We believe that God made all people – and that he made all different colors of skin. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a pastor who believed in God and that God was going to bring justice to this earth over the course of history.”

Let us press on in every fight against injustice and trust in the grace of God as we follow Him on the journey towards justice.

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Longest Celebrity Marriage?

Celebrities, including Hollywood stars, music icons, and famous people around the world have a reputation for short and numerous marriages. But there are always examples to the contrary, and I write this to show that lifelong monogamy is still possible. I personally believe it is only possible by the grace of God.

I think I may have discovered the longest, if not, the longest current marriage between two television/movie/stage celebrities. And I cannot find their names listed on any “longest celebrity marriages” lists around the internet.

I was listening to the soundtrack of the musical 1776 (about the founding fathers and the events leading to the signing of the Declaration of Independence) on my computer and was impressed by the performance of John Adams played by William Daniels (who also played Mr. Feeny on Boy Meets World).

So I searched his name to learn more about him. I discovered that he is married to a woman named Bonnie Bartlett, who is also an actress. They have both won Emmys for their work (on the same night too).

Photo by Alan Light
Photo by Alan Light

They got married in 1951. That was 65 years ago.

Can you find or name any couples where both are celebrities who have been married longer? I know “celebrity” is a relative term, but in this case they both won Emmy awards for their acting roles, so I think “celebrity” is a fair term to use for both of them.

I would love to interview them and ask them questions about having a long marriage in a culture that has a reputation for the opposite. I’m thankful for them and their example.

A Brain Game for Ministry

I like finding neat science tricks and visual illustrations that can be used to help communicate Biblical concepts in teaching. I found this neat brain game trick which I like to call the “curved arcs” from Steve Spangler Science. He sells the pieces I bought below. But you can also make your own and he has instructions on his site. I made my own large versions out of wood. The pictures below are the smaller cardboard type.

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At first glance, one may look smaller than the other.

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You can especially notice how they appear different lengths when you position them like this.

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This is the two pieces switched. Now the yellow one is “longer”!

But when you stack them (seen below), you realize they are the same size!

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Most adults pick up on this pretty quickly. Kids take a little longer to agree with you, of course. But no matter your age, it is still a fascinating reality. Two objects of the exact same size can appear to be different lengths depending on how they are positioned relative to one another.

Clearly our eyes and brains can play tricks on themselves. And that is one of the points I like to make in teaching kids about the Bible. There are several connections you can make here.

One that I make is that we as humans are all equally fallen sinners before God. We might compare ourselves to other people and think, “Well, I’m not as bad as that person!” The truth is, all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). When you put the two arcs on top of one another, you realize that they are the same. We are the same as humans as well in terms of our guilt before a perfect and holy God.

What metaphors or illustrations would you make with this brain game? Have you used any in the past? Let me know if you have any ideas!

Super Easy Scripture Slides and Images

I recently stumbled upon a fast and free way to make Scripture slides for Children’s Ministry (or any other ministry, for that matter) with an array of free and attractive backgrounds.

And it may already be in your phone/device.

It’s built into one of the popular apps out there – the free YouVersion app of the Bible (they’re not paying me to post this, btw 🙂 I just really like this feature and want to share about it).

I was using the app recently and saw a button I had never seen before. So I clicked on it. What I found was amazing. It was an option to make an image of any selected Bible verse over any background of your choice (your own or from their library). The settings make it easy to change the font, the font size, the colors, etc. Below are some steps and pics to show you how to do it.

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  1. First, download the app. Search “youversion” on your app store.
  2. Once you familiarize yourself with how to find a certain verse (which is intuitive), select a verse by tapping it. It will underline the verse with a dotted line and then give you a selection of options on the right.
  3. Then tap on the orange button (of a photograph), which will lead you through the step-by-step editing process.
  4. Once you have your slide, share it as you like! See the images below for a more detailed look at how it works.
Tap a verse you want to turn into a slide. It will underline it will dotted lines. Then click on the orange button on the right - the one with the image of a photograph.
Tap a verse you want to turn into a slide. It will underline it will dotted lines. Then click on the orange button on the right – the one with the image of a photograph.
Select an image from their gallery. Or you can use your own (the very first option).
Select an image from their gallery. Or you can use your own (the very first option).
Use the options under the image to change the font, size, and color of the verse.
Use the options under the image to change the font, size, and color of the verse.
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When you’re ready, tap “save.” Then you will see this image. Tap the “share” button to see your sharing options.

Then you can share the image by email, message, or social media. You can also save the image to your device and hence drop it into any slide show you are making (such as Keynote or ProPresenter).

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I love to use it to share a quick verse on social media or as a slide when I’m speaking or teaching about the Bible. It’s super easy to use and best of all, it’s free!

Bonus: Many of the most popular Bible verses (John 3:16, for example) have special pre-made images with artsy fonts and backgrounds. Those are fun to discover and you just have to stumble upon them when you go to those verses and then go to this “edit image” process.

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Here are some slides I’ve made since I found out about this……

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