When I was in elementary and middle school, I was small. I couldn’t keep up with the stronger kids in the popular sports like football and basketball. I was pushed around and bullied by the bigger kids.
Then I discovered a unique talent – juggling. While in fifth grade, my friend Tim taught me how to juggle three balls. I was fascinated by the process and challenge of juggling. I practiced every night after school for about two weeks and finally figured out how to juggle. But I didn’t stop at three. With the help of library books, other jugglers that I met along the way, and lots of practice, I worked my way up to five, six, and seven objects within a few more years.
Then came the high school variety show. I was still one of those “geek” kids who was never in the popular crowd. But my friends talked me into performing my juggling in front of my entire high school for this talent night. So I pulled out the machete juggling and the six-foot ladder balance. The crowd went nuts. I had finally discovered something that (1) I was good at and (2) brought joy to other people.
Frederick Buechner said, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
Juggling is an activity that makes me feel alive in a different way than most things – like I was made to do it. And that activity is something different for every person.
But it doesn’t stop there. God gave us each different gifts and talents so that we can shine His light, share His love, bring peace where there is pain, bring goodness and joy to others….all to the glory of His name.
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” – 1 Peter 4:10, NIV
You see, we all have different gifts and strengths, which means we NEED one another. Your strengths fill in for my weaknesses and vice versa. That is why community is so important. In community, we are an unstoppable force of strengths for the greater good of the world.
Research has shown that there is a direct correlation between the use of people’s strengths in their jobs and the overall success of the organizations those people work for. In other words, the best organizations are the ones where most of the people use most of their gifts, talents, and strengths most of the time (see the Gallup C12 engagement survey).
So how can we teach and encourage kids to discover and use their talents for the greater good?
- Teach them about calling and vocation. Have discussions about how talents are God-given and that we can develop them through continued work and practice. Check out Visions of Vocation by Steven Garber and Kingdom Calling by Amy Sherman for more on these topics.
- Give children every opportunity you can to explore all the different kinds of subjects, activities, arts, and sports in the world. And do so in a way that allows children to freely choose the things they want to pursue in life. When we put the “toys” in front of them, they will pick their favorites and discover their passions and talents.
- Consider donating time and/or money to organizations that provide children with opportunities they would otherwise not have. Not all kids have the same amount of opportunities, so we as adults need to be aware of this discrepancy and do everything in our power to offer all children the opportunities to explore different activities in this world.
- Teach them about community and how we need one another in this life. Our strengths and talents fill in the gaps of weaknesses and challenges in others (and vice versa). When we come together in groups, teams, and communities, we become unstoppable forces.
- Lead kids in service projects. Kids love to serve. They want to serve. When they serve their communities for the greater good, they realize that they have gifts and talents to offer the world. Talk about how God gave us these gifts so that we can help others and bring glory to God.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
guest post by Russell Joyner
Why would Jesus say something that sounds so discouraging? In Jewish tradition, in a moment of great distress, one should pray. When all looks hopeless, pray. When you can’t think of what to pray, then recite one of the pre-approved inspired prayers.
In first century Israel, In the middle of the afternoon, around three PM, Jews would stop for prayer. Somebody was supposed to call together at least ten Jewish men (constituting a minyun / quorum), then lead out in a Hebrew prayer, preferably one memorized from Scripture. Those who knew the prayer were supposed to corporately join in out loud.
Matthew 27:46 tells us “At about the ninth hour, Jesus cried out in a loud voice…” The ninth hour after sunrise is the time to offer the afternoon prayer. Nobody else took the leadership to select one of the psalms to pray. So Jesus took the lead, and started the prayer. When 1st century Hebrews started reciting Scripture, they did not use the number references like we do (chapter and verse numbers). The opening phrase also served as the title of the prayer. Jesus was inviting those standing around the foot of the cross to join him in one of the most dynamic petitions for deliverance ever written, very likely penned by King David himself.
Psalm 22 is a classic example of a “Prayer of Lament” (along with about two dozen in the Book of Psalms). The Biblical lament expresses a desperate situation, but the whole point is to confess that the situation can be changed by the LORD. The lament psalms raise a cry out of the depths, fully believing that God has the power to lift a person up, around or through the pit & to set the believer’s feet firmly upon the rock. Therefore, these Biblical laments are ultimately expressions of praise; admitting circumstances are at their worst, yet praising God for his faithful presence & deliverance. Things may look bad, but my God is sufficient for me. In each case, the complaining lament is shown to be invalid as a truth statement within the prayer itself.
Psalm 13:1 How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
Psalm 13:5-6 But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.
Psalm 74:1 Why have you rejected us forever, O God? Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture?
Psalm 74:12 But you, O God, are my king from of old; you bring salvation upon the earth.
While the complaint truly springs from genuine human anguish, once the individual looks at the lamentable circumstances through God’s eyes, the logical fallacy becomes clear.
Psalm 22 opens up with this address & complaint: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, & am not silent.”
Some have taken that statement at face value, to conclude that God the Father did in fact forsake Jesus. I must go wherever the evidence leads me, and the evidence leads me to say “NO”!
- The ultimate message of Psalm 22 was trust in Yahweh’s covenant faithfulness: God will deliver.
- The way God has revealed himself consistently throughout Scripture:
- Immanuel literally means, “God With Us”
- The name Yahweh can be translated, “I Am Faithfully Present”
- Deuteronomy 31:6 – “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
- Psalm 94:14 – “I will not forsake my inheritance.”
- The opening lines of psalms were used as titles, therefore, mention of title invokes the whole prayer.
- Psalm 22:24 itself tells us “For He has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him, but has listened to his cry for help.” The initial complaint is corrected by the forthtelling prophecy.
- New Testament confirmation:
- Matthew 27 quotes four times from Psalm 22; Matthew understood the whole represented by the part.
- “When he offered up prayers & petitions w/loud cries & tears to the one who could save him, He was heard” (Hebrews 5:7).
Jesus gave his life willingly. He knew the ultimate message of Psalm 22 was trust in Yahweh’s faithfulness. He also recognized the lament psalm for what it was: a prayer of praise in the midst of lamentable circumstances. Not a hopeless lamentation.
The evidence & example of Christ leads us to be more willing to express ourselves to God openly without white-washing our problems. The prayer closet is the place to freely and firmly make your complaint and appeal. When we are at our wit’s end, Psalm 22 can guide us in taking our problems to the LORD. Don’t despair!
APPLICATION: Do not build your view of God on your feelings, but upon the WORD of God….The BIBLE. The true & living God has revealed himself to us in the Scripture, that we might know him & obey him.
Here’s a simple and fun Easter egg hunt activity that involves all ages. You can use this at home, at church, or any other Easter event.
- Using plastic Easter eggs, have the adults hide the eggs for the children – the more people you get involved the better, as you’ll see why in the next steps….
- Do NOT fill the eggs with candy. Instead, have each adult take one or more eggs and fill each one with a slip of paper with a Bible verse on it. Ideally, the Bible verses can be about the resurrection of Jesus (here is a link to a starter list of 15 verses you can use). It is best if each adult takes the time to look up and write out each verse by hand.
- Set the children loose to find the eggs.
- After all the eggs are found, have people forms intergenerational groups of 5-8 people each.
- Have the children read the verses out loud to the adults in the group and give time for the groups to discuss the verses together.
- Allow time for the group to pray together as well.
- Finally, have plenty of candy available for the children at the end, so they can still fill their baskets and bellies with the sweets!
I had the privilege of seeing Billy Graham preach at a packed Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati in the summer of 2002. I had just graduated from college with a Bible degree and was preparing to enter seminary later that Fall.
The timing was perfect. As I was training to be a pastor and teacher, God allowed me to witness this lion of a preacher whom God had used to change the lives of millions of people around the globe.
Cincinnati had been reeling from race-related riots when Graham came that summer. He spoke to the issue directly, saying that racial injustice was a “moral and spiritual issue” since God made us and loves us all equally, regardless of the color of our skin (Cincinnati Enquirer, 2002).
Here at the things that struck me most about Billy Graham and have had a lasting impact on how I go about ministry:
- Simplicity with Clarity – Billy kept it simple. He preached the Gospel. But it wasn’t watered down. He spoke of the deep theology of God in such a way that a child could understand it. And that method penetrates deep into the heart of my own calling to teach the Bible to children.
- Character and Integrity – Billy was a world-famous preacher for 60 years and maintained integrity both financially and in his marriage. He was known to have avoided any situation that would put him in the room alone with a woman other than his wife.
In this tribute to Billy from his organization, they point out that Billy didn’t really die yesterday (according to his own words). He simply changed his address…
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.
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!….
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…..
- 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 🙂
- 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.
- 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.
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).
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?).
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.
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).
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.
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).
Beckwith, Ivy. Formational children’s ministry: Shaping children using story, ritual, and relationship. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010.