Faith Development Resources: Pre-Teen

ELEVEN TO TWELVE YEARS

617bWSrj45L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Biblezines series. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, various dates.

Thomas Nelson publishers has created a series of whole-text Old and New Testaments printed in the style of a modern magazine. They call them “Biblezines.” There are different versions for different genders and age groups. There is Revolve for girls and Refuel for boys. There are also other age levels represented. This can be helpful for young preteens who enjoy this medium of literature (http://www.amazon.com/Revolve-2007-New-Testament-Biblezine/dp/0718016483/ref=pd_sim_14_5?ie=UTF8&dpID=61ZTKT9DGTL&dpSrc=sims&preST=_AC_UL160_SR118%2C160_&refRID=01JN82W1F1RWMSR58N18).

9137tmTnVOL._SL1500_ 51Np+0r5ISL._SX300_Clementoni Biblical Scene Jigsaw Puzzles – Tower of Babel and The Last Supper.

These two puzzles are more difficult than the one mentioned previously because of the number of pieces. That is why they are listed in this older age group. Like already stated, puzzles are a great way for families to come together and share a positive experience away from electronic devices. Both of these puzzles feature images of Biblical scenes that are also masterpieces in art history.

    1. Clementoni 1500 Piece Bruegel The Tower of Babel Puzzle (http://www.clementoni.com/en/31985-bruegel-the-tower-of-babel-1500-pieces-museum-collection/).
    2. Clementoni 1000 Piece The Last Supper Leonardo da Vinci Jigsaw Puzzle (http://www.clementoni.com/en/31447-leonardo-the-last-supper-1000-pieces-museum-collection/).

Commission on Children at Risk. “Hardwired to connect: The new scientific case for authoritative communities.” A report by the Institute for American Values, 2003.

This report is the result of a large study done by leaders from various fields who work with children and who are stakeholders in the conversation of how to improve the lives of youth. The study found that children need “authoritative communities” in order to thrive. Children are made for relationships and find meaning when there is a strong moral and spiritual foundation around them in the form of community. Leaders can use this to better understand children from all types of communities and explore how to better nurture their spiritual development (http://www.americanvalues.org/search/item.php?id=17) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2a-W183l04).

dredsandcompany2Dreds and Company.

Dawna Duke is a musician who has written worship songs geared towards the preteen age group. Most songs are upbeat Scripture lyrics so the kids can learn Scripture while they sing. She goes by the name of “Dreds” and usually brings other team members to help with the singing and leading the motions (“Company”). They travel to churches and camps leading worship for kids and family ministry events (http://www.dredsandcompany.com/).

The Family Prayer Corner.

Inspired by an idea from my daughter’s school (which uses the Atrium and the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd), I created a family prayer corner which has since turned into a creative space in which our entire family connects with God and with one another. Here is my blog post about it from February 26th, 2016: (http://jessejoyner.com/the-family-prayer-corner/)

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, reset the rocks to the original position of being spread around the empty jar. Before you reset 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?

NarniaLewis, C.S. The Chronicles of Narnia. New York: Harper Collins. 2002.

This classic seven-volume set of 20th Century fantasy literature by British author C.S. Lewis is accepted in both religious and secular arenas as excellent children’s literature. The series follows the story of four siblings caught up in a parallel universe called Narnia – home to fawns, witches, centaurs, nymphs, talking beavers, and the good lion Aslan. Lewis was an outspoken Christian with a gift for apologetics. He was also gifted in telling the story of redemption without coming across “preachy,” which is exactly what he accomplished with the Chronicles of Narnia. The story is clearly an allegory of God’s works of sacrificial love and consummate redemption through Christ, even though Lewis neither forces nor explicitly states this connection. It is a perfect series for parents to read to young children or children of ten or older to read on their own. Ideally, natural conversations about the similarities between Aslan and Christ and other connections can be had between parents and children (https://www.narnia.com/us).

12734106_1056251354441618_7039911769376766518_n (1)Local “Western Wall.”

A praying wall with bricks and slats for placing prayers on folded pieces of paper can be constructed as a prayer station in church. This can be easily transferred to use with children in church or in the home. Waverly United Methodist Church in Waverly, PA is credited for this idea and here is there picture and description: “Today we began our Lenten series, “Watch and Pray.” The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem is the last remaining structure of the temple. A sacred place of the Jewish faith, local Jews and pilgrims of both the Jewish and Christian traditions tuck written prayers into the crevices between the rocks. This Lent, we will leave our prayers for God in our own wall.” Thanks to the Gilpins who happened to have a stash of bricks for us to borrow and John K who delivered them to church so we could build our prayer wall this morning! Stop in anytime to leave a prayer and join us Sunday at 9am as we continue to “watch and pray” (from the ‘Waverly Umc’ facebook page, posted 2/14/2016, accessed 2/17/2016).

IMG_0638.JPGMosaic Tile Art Installation at The Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, Israel.

This is a series of mosaic tile portraits of the madonna and child (Mary and Jesus) from dozens of countries around the world. People can walk the courtyard of the church and appreciate the way different cultures around the world depict Mary and Jesus. In each one, the figures reflect the dominant skin tones, clothing, and symbols of the respective culture. It is a helpful way for kids and parents to learn about the various ways cultures around the world view Jesus and that Jesus should not be restricted to a bearded Western affluent white figure as he typically is in America (cf. May, Stonehouse, Posterski, Cannell, Children Matter, p. 124). If you cannot visit in person, you can view the mosaics here: (http://www.biblewalks.com/Sites/AnnunciationMosaics.html).

bible_memory_scripture_typerScriptureTyper App.

This is an app for devices that is specifically designed to aid in Scripture memorization. It has ten of the most popular English Bible translations and has a three step process that teaches the user to memorize a verse of their choice or one selected from a number of categories. It also tracks your progress and saves your memorized verses (https://scripturetyper.com/).

null.jpg_8945Strobel, Lee and Christopher D. Hudson. The Case for Christ for kids curriculum. DVD set. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013.

From well-known Christian apologist Lee Strobel comes his version of The Case for Christ geared towards kids. Preteens are struggling with the tough issues surrounding the reliability of Scripture, the existence of God, and the reason for the life and work of Jesus Christ. Ministry leaders can use this video-based curriculum to facilitate the six-lessons that are a part of the curriculum (http://www.zondervan.com/the-case-for-christ-for-kids-curriculum#).

*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.

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 Role of the Children’s Pastor

I’m reading a great book on ministry with children right now called Children Matter by Scottie May, Beth Posterski, Catherine Stonehouse, and Linda Cannell (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 2005).

childrenmatter_md

Here is a quote that made me stop in my tracks:

“Our responsibility is to create an environment in which the child can learn about and enter into God’s story, respond to the Holy Spirit, and experience the presence and leading of God” (Children Matter, p. 34).

Read that again. This is super important for Children’s Pastors/Ministers/Leaders. Notice that is does not say that we are the ones with all the knowledge to pass down to the children. We are not the ones with all the answers and the ability to make a child’s faith grow.

Our job is to make space for God to do what He does.

Our job is to point towards God.

Our job is to walk together in faith with these kids, set the stage for God’s works of grace, and get out of the way.

Jesus himself commands us not to “hinder” the children, but instead to simply let them come to Him (Matt 19:14).

I know this sounds abstract, so I will give one practical example to explain what I mean by this. One thing that I have found to be a perfect way to “make space” for kids to encounter God organically is something called Worship Response Stations. These are tactile, exploratory stations that give kids opportunities to connect with God in creative ways after a music and teaching time in worship.

I have an entire other post about Worship Response Stations that you can read here.

What are some ways that you as a leader make space for kids to encounter God?
IMG_6273.JPG

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.

image12

  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.
image6
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).

image7

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……

IMG_2252 IMG_2253 IMG_2255 IMG_2263 IMG_2264 IMG_2277

 

 

Bring Me Game Ideas

What do you do when you have a room full of children causing havoc (or could potentially do so) and need to engage them in a way that is both fun and simple to execute? Well, education is a good idea. But perhaps you’ve taught and they’ve learned all day and it’s time to kick back and play a good old-fashioned group game.

Play the “Bring Me” Game!

The Bring Me Game concept is simple and the variations are endless. You, the game leader, should stand up front with a microphone (or not if your group is small enough) and ask for random objects/items. I’ve got a list to get you going below.

The first person or group or team to produce the requested item and bring it to you gets a point for their team. WARNING: Kids tend to RUN a lot in this game. So make sure you remind them to not trample one another or trip over anything in their effort to bring the items up to you. You can decide how long to play (such as “first team to ten points wins”).

20100630_6165 copy

One major thing to keep in mind when playing the game and coming up with ideas is the fact that nearly everyone has a device these days (even youth). If you’re at an event where most everyone has a device on them or at least some representatives of each team (such as adults in mostly-kid events) have devices, then make the most of technology in your requests. The internet is an endless supply of “scavenger-hunt” challenges. Just ask for a picture of BB-8 from Star Wars or a map of the country of Malaysia or any other fun idea they can search for.

The types of things you call up will vary depending on the size and the average age of your group. For example, not many kids will have a credit card on them if you ask for one. So be creative with ideas that fit what you think is out there in everyone’s pockets, purses, and accessories.

shoes-670623_1920

Here is a list of ideas to get you going. You can come up with your own ideas by thinking of other things similar to or related to items on this list.

  • two different shoelaces tied together
  • five different socks bundled up in a ball
  • a selfie on a device
  • a photograph of exactly ten people on a device
  • something edible
  • chocolate
  • something that has a picture of a rainbow on it
  • a double-A battery and a triple-A battery
  • something that is completely blue
  • two people wearing glasses doing jumping jacks next to one another
  • two unrelated people with red hair
  • a human hair
  • a non-human living thing (this will usually be a bug or insect found on the floor)
  • lipstick
  • chapstick
  • nail clippers
  • six people forming a human pyramid
  • a red pen or marker
  • something with a disney symbol or character on it
  • two unrelated people with braces
  • a nail file
  • a one dollar bill, a five dollar bill, and a ten dollar bill (exactly)
  • a penny, a nickel, a dime, and a quarter (exactly)
  • a liquid
  • something that feels cold
  • something that feels warm
  • something that lights up (that is not a phone or tablet device)
  • ten people in a line that goes from tallest person to shortest person
  • a pencil
  • a tissue
  • a crumpled up piece of paper
  • something silver
  • something gold
  • a person wearing two different kinds of shoes
  • a rock
  • a visible piece of dust/dustball
  • something sharp (and if it is a dangerous/forbidden object, you can confiscate it 🙂
  • something conical
  • something circular
  • something in the shape of a cube
  • a ball of some sort
  • something chewable
  • five breath mints
  • three different kinds of breath mints
  • a picture on a device of the White House in Washington D.C.
  • a picture on a device of a mother and a son
  • someone who can say the alphabet backwards (for real, not someone saying, “alphabet backwards”)
  • pocket fuzz/lint
  • a device playing the United States’ National Anthem
  • a device playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata
  • a paper towel
  • a circle of exactly twelve people holding hands

I posted about this back in 2012 with more ideas you can use as well!

Please share your lists and ideas in the comments below and we can have a trove of items for people to say “Bring me……!”

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The Interrobang as a Metaphor for the Hypostatic Union

If you have no idea what that title means, that’s OK. It is actually fairly simple to explain those weird words, which I will attempt to do. The “hypostatic union” is an important theological concept to understand about the person and work of Jesus Christ. It basically says that Jesus Christ is one person, two natures (divine and human). The interrobang is a punctuation symbol that I believe is a helpful metaphor to understand the hypostatic union.

The interrobang is a lesser known punctuation mark. Merriam-Webster defines it as “a punctuation mark ‽ designed for use especially at the end of an exclamatory rhetorical question” (“Interrobang,” Merriam-Webster). This means that it unites both the symbol and function of the exclamation point and the question mark into one character. For example, instead of “You lost the dog?!” it is also acceptable (and more economical) to write, “You lost the dog‽”  In fact, you can still see the shape of both the exclamation point and the question mark in the interrobang as the two characters are superimposed on one another. Here is a larger look at how they merge:

! + ? =

This is a visual metaphor for the hypostatic union. This is the theological doctrine that Jesus Christ is simultaneously fully God and fully man. In Christ, the two natures (divine and human) are united into one person (hypostasis) (McGrath, 1998, 56; Oden, 1992/2001, 165). This can be a potentially difficult point to explain to children (and adults as well). But when a simple visual metaphor such as the interrobang is used, the ability to grasp the concept is increased. Not only that, but it also helps learners experience and understand what for them may be a new spiritual reality in their hearts and minds, which ideally helps them draw closer to God. This is the generative nature of metaphors in spiritual formation.

Note that in the interrobang neither the exclamation point nor the question mark are absorbed or lost into the other. The reader can still clearly make out the fullness of each punctuation mark – and they are artfully merged to co-exist in one typographical character. So also is the character/person of Jesus Christ. He is one person who embodies the union of total divine nature and total human nature. Just as you can make out the entire exclamation point and entire question mark in the interrobang at the same time, so also does Jesus have the entirety of divinity and the entirety of human nature at the same time (John 1:14; Phil 2:6-11; Col 2:9, 3:15-20). The author of Hebrews adds that though he was like us in every way (human nature), he had no sin (Heb 4:15). That is because he was also fully God and it is impossible for God to sin (James 1:13; Heb 6:18; Psalm 92:15).

Why is the hypostatic union such an important concept? It has to do with the very foundations of Christianity – salvation by grace through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. If Jesus was merely a man and not God, then he would be less than perfect and his sacrifice would not be sufficient to atone for sins against a perfect and holy God. If Jesus was God and not also human, then he would not be able to offer himself on behalf of humans (human sin against God demands that the atonement must also come from a human – see Anselm’s argument at The Christian History Institute).

What do you think about the interrobang‽ Is it a helpful metaphor? What are some other metaphors that may help us better understand the hypostatic union?

 

Works Cited:

“Interrobang.” Merriam-Webster. online article. http://beta.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/interrobang (accessed December 17, 2015).

McGrath, Alister E. Historical theology: An introduction to the history of Christian thought. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998.

Oden, Thomas C. The word of life: systematic theology: volume two. Peabody, MA: Prince, 2001.

 

Five Ways to Redeem Halloween

pumpkin-heads-965566_1920As a Christian who grew up in the church and in a Christian family, I have seen many various ways that Christians respond to the cultural phenomenon that has become Halloween.

Like many things in life, there are extreme ways to celebrate (or not celebrate) something. Some Christians avoid Halloween and anything having to do with it altogether. Others celebrate the not-so-holy “holi”day by jumping in with the rest of culture like it’s no big deal.

Instead of saying that I fall somewhere in the middle, I would rather like to view Halloween from the larger Christian perspective of redemption – and say that there are ways to redeem (which literally means “to buy back”) Halloween.

First of all, Halloween is like Mardi Gras – it celebrates the day before a Christian holiday and tends to diametrically oppose the Christian holiday in some way shape or form. Mardi Gras (“fat tuesday”) is the day before Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent. Since Lent is a season that many Christians fast from something, Mardi Gras has turned into a celebration of the excesses of worldly pleasure before taking time to fast from something.

With Halloween, it sits the day before All Saints Day (November 1st). In fact, Halloween literally means “All Hallows (Saints) Eve,” which gives us “Hallow-een.” While All Saints Day celebrates the great cloud of Godly witnesses who have gone before us, Halloween has become a celebration of the opposite – the evil dead, the spirits of the wicked, and all sorts of other accompanying themes like demons and witches.

I find it interesting that both celebrations (Mardi Gras and Halloween) are secular responses to an original Christian holiday, not the other way around. Both are only there because the Christian holiday was there first. So as Christians, I feel that we can approach both of these celebrations in a redemptive way – knowing that Halloween simply means that we are about to approach All Saints Day and Mardi Gras means that Lent is right around the corner.

I also believe that we as Christians can participate in many of the cultural traditions of both celebrations without selling out our faith. In fact, I think both are opportunities to “buy back” the days and engage our communities with the redemptive love and message of Jesus Christ.

So do I think it’s wrong for your child to dress up and ask for candy – of course not. I think the general consensus (including among Christians today) is that playing dress-up and asking others for candy is harmless (except for the whole sugar-overload thing). But I do believe there is a line that we as Christians should draw in terms of not exposing our children (or ourselves) to images, costumes, and activities that celebrate evil, wickedness, and horror.

So here are some practical suggestions as to how we as Christians can “buy back” Halloween in such a way that I believe points to Jesus instead of evil:

  1. Reverse Trick-or-Treat – I heard of this idea years ago from the Cincinnati Vineyard Church. They would encourage their congregation to use Halloween night as a great chance to meet neighbors door-to-door and give something away (like bottles of water or even candy) at each house along with a neighborly greeting. They would encourage people to simply say something like, “Here’s a bottle of water. I just wanted to show you God’s love in a practical way.” No pushy sales talk. Just loving your neighbors (isn’t that what Jesus told us to do?).
  2. Historical Figure Dress Up – I just heard of this from a Christian school near my house called Veritas School. They had the students dress up as their favorite characters from history – whether Biblical or otherwise. They had everything from Jonah to Thomas Jefferson. What a great way to let your kids have fun and learn the stories of fascinating figures from history.
  3. Trunk-or-Treat – You have probably heard of this. A church or other organization will have a big tailgate party in their parking lot and each car gets decked out in decorations and candy. The kids can then go from car to car and get their spoils. This is a great idea for community outreach since it is safe and open to the wider community. Some of these events also include ways for people in the community to learn more about the church and the message of God’s love for them in various ways.
  4. Fall Festival – This is also very common. It is a great way to throw a big end-of-October party without calling it “Halloween”! Kids don’t care and won’t feel like they’re missing out on anything because they still get to dress up (sometimes with a “no scary costumes” caveat, which is fine), ride hay rides, bob for apples, and walk the cake walk. Celebrate the season of God’s provision of the harvest!
  5. Just-Hang-Out-On-Your-Front-Porch – I made this title up. But it is the idea of being present with your neighbors in a culture when most people just drive into their garages and never even wave at their neighbors. Halloween is a great opportunity to do something revolutionary like meet your neighbor. You can’t love your neighbor unless you first meet them. Chances are that they will drop by for a moment while their kids ask for candy. Take the opportunity to greet them and love them with the love of Christ. Chill on the porch and enjoy the opportunity to build a bridge with people that you usually otherwise may never meet. I would recommend having substantial gifts and treats that represent generosity!

One Body, Many Parts

800px-Marrus_orthocanna_crop

800px-Haeckel_Siphonophorae_37When I spoke at Camp Dixie last weekend, I was given the theme “Submerge,” which was focused on God’s deep love for us. As I was pondering some topics to go along with that, I learned a little bit about the creatures of the deep ocean. By the way, scientists say that we know more about outer space than we do about our own ocean. It is so deep and vast that it will take a very long time to chart it and discover it the way we have our own land.

There are creatures found in the deep ocean called Siphonophores (an order of Hydrozoa). They baffle scientists because while each one appears to be a large creature (some get up to over 150 feet long), the large “creature” is actually a colony of many individual animals playing different parts and roles in the whole “creature.” This is different than say, our bodies, which are made up of different parts and cells. These are entirely individual creatures working together to form one large creature!

That got me thinking about when Paul says that we are one body with many parts (1 Corinthians 12). The siphonophore is a great metaphor because each animal has a particular part to play and is a part of something bigger than itself. In fact, “most of the zooids are so specialized, they lack the ability to survive on their own” (Siphonophorae, Wikipedia article, 2015).

I happen to be a juggler and a public speaker. But there are many things I cannot do or cannot do well (like shoot a basketball or perform surgery or cook a turkey). Sometimes I wish I could do it all, but then I remember that God made me with certain gifts and not others. It is my responsibility to pursue excellence at the things God has gifted me with and celebrate and encourage the many gifts in those around me. When we come together, there is an unstoppable synergy that becomes the force of Christ’s body on earth advancing the Kingdom of God.

I hope this encourages you today.

Here is what Paul says to the church in Corinth…..

1Cor. 12:12   The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.  13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

1Cor. 12:14   Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.  15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.  16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.  17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?  18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.  19 If they were all one part, where would the body be?  20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

1Cor. 12:21   The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”  22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,  23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty,  24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it,  25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.  26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

1Cor. 12:27   Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.  28 And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues.  29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?  30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?  31a But eagerly desire the greater gifts.

First Baptist Church of Woodbridge Show

A few weeks ago, I got to share my show with First Baptist Church in Woodbridge, VA. It was a cold Saturday in early Spring but over a thousand people still showed up! I did two shows – one in the large sanctuary before the egg hunt and a second in a small cafe-like setting for a smaller lunch crowd. It was a lot of fun. I got to share about the real meaning of Easter while having fun with audience volunteers and juggling a variety of objects. One of my favorite parts was calling up a young lady and juggling while I read from her address book on her smart phone (she gave me permission to do so). It’s amazing what you learn about people from their list of contacts! Thanks to Bill Bennett for the pics….

It was a fun show!
It was a fun show!
Reading her smart phone contacts.
Reading her smart phone contacts.
Balancing a water cooler!
Balancing a water cooler!
Some work with cigar boxes.
Some work with cigar boxes.

Where Do Kids Belong in Church?

puzzle-210786_1280I am fascinated by the variety of ways that churches integrate or segregate age groups for worship gatherings (the former is also known as “inter-generational worship”). Is there a right way or a wrong way to format this as a church? Do some churches have a better handle on how children and adults worship together than others? What do you think?

Some churches segregate the children from the adults for the entire worship time. You arrive at church as a family unit. You split up into your age-appropriate classes and worship services, and then come back together again at the end of the church day and drive home together. Supporters of this format will say that children learn best in their respective age-leveled worship environments and the adults can be free of the distraction of children during adult worship services.

Other churches have the kids with the adults for the entire worship time (usually smaller churches). Supporters of this model will say that the children need to learn about worship by watching the model of adults and also that adults can learn from the faith of children.

And then many churches tend to have some sort of hybrid plan that allows the children to worship with the adults for part of the service and then dismiss to age-appropriate teaching or sermon times. Churches that split the ages for the entire Sunday service may have other inter-generational worship opportunities throughout the calendar (such as an inter-generational service once a month or special mid-week worship gatherings).

A well-known church in the Atlanta area (North Point Community Church) has created a model called Kidstuf where the parents actually join the kids in the children’s church service. I like that model because it turns the tables on what is defined as the “main” worship service of a church. Why do we have to think that the adults are the “main” people and the kids are some sort of auxiliary group to the church community? Why not have the adults join the kids in church for once?

There are plenty of other ways to approach this issue. What does your worshiping community do? Do you think there is a right way or wrong way to approach this?