First Night Virginia!

I’m happy to announce that I will be returning to perform at First Night Virginia this New Year’s Eve in Charlottesville, VA. The shows will be at 6:30pm, 9pm, and 10:15pm at the First United Methodist Church in Charlottesville, VA on December 31, 2017.

I hope to see you all there!

Click on the link below for my show’s profile on the event website.

http://www.firstnightva.org/_event_pages/event_page-27.html#event-page-top

And here is the main website for the entire event: http://www.firstnightva.org/

Stewards of the Story

Last night, I was working with my seven year-old daughter on a Bible verse that she is trying to memorize. The verse spoke about the “fear of God” and we had a good discussion about the definition of the word “fear” in that context. While that alone is a whole other discussion, the point I want to make here is that while we were discussing that topic, a number of other theological topics came up in our discussion. I noticed that she was engaged and interested in hearing my take on this grand story of God. Then a powerful thought hit me: “Wow, here I am passing on a story that has endured for generations and I am just a tiny little steward of this story in the course of history.”

It was a humbling thought.

It was also very encouraging. It is exciting to be a part of something so much bigger than myself. God’s story precedes me and it will endure long after my time on this earth. It is my job to care for it, stay true to it, be transformed by it, and pass it on to those after me – so they can do the same for the generations after them.

James Earl Massey wrote a book in 2006 called Stewards of the Story: The Task of Preaching (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press). The title alone is a gripping reminder that preachers (and, I would add, Christians in general) are responsible to pass on the story of God in accurate form from one generation to the next. Like a family heirloom, the story of God is a priceless narrative that neither begins nor ends with our generation. It was given to us and we have the duty of preserving it and passing it on to those who outlive us.

In the foreword to Massey’s book, Timothy George writes…

“Stewards are trustees, into whose care and responsibility something precious – in this case, something infinitely precious – has been entrusted. In the most basic sense, trustees are not “owners” of the prized bequest they have received. Rather, they hold the bequest in trust, and they have a fiduciary responsibility to pass it on intact to those who will one day receive it in turn from them” (xiii).

God’s story is first and foremost the Biblical story that was at one time transmitted via oral tradition but then put to text over the course of many centuries. But passing on God’s story to our children also means telling them of the great things God has done in our lives and in the lives of saints throughout history.

We will not hide them from their descendants;
    we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
    his power, and the wonders he has done (Psalm 78:4, NIV)

Remember the “telephone game” from when we were kids? A line of kids would have to preserve a sentence from the start of the line to the end of the line by each kid whispering it into the ear of the person next to them. The sentence was almost always completely butchered by the time it reached the end of the line, often unrecognizable from the original statement.

God’s story is way more valuable than the statements given in a telephone game. That’s why oral tradition was a very strict art in ancient times. And when we were able to write it all down, God gave us the gift of holding onto this story in a textual form that was painstakingly written, copied, and preserved by prophets, rabbis, monks, and then the printing press.

Our job as followers of God is to painstakingly preserve this story in it’s original form and pass it on as such. I always say that in preaching and teaching the best strategy is to stick to the Word. It’s hard to go wrong when we stick to God’s Word. We get sloppy and misdirect our hearers if we start making stuff up and/or talk about whatever we think is right and accurate.

Stick to the Word. Hold it close to your heart. Let it transform you. Pass it on in it’s original form. And teach others to do the same.

The Idea of Invitation in Worship

“Let the little children come to me.” – Jesus of Nazareth

This past Sunday was a snow day in our part of the country. Most churches closed due to weather. When my wife, daughter, and I made our way downstairs to make some breakfast together, my wife suggested that we have a family devotional time. Since our daughter is six, we have the Jesus Storybook Bible, a summarized version of the Bible that tells the major stories on a level that children can easily understand. Sarah, my wife, thought it would be nice to read a chapter from that book and then say a prayer together.

It was looking like an idyllic family devotional time until we told our daughter about the idea. For some reason (maybe because she had just woken up and because of the magical snow outside), she was not in the mood to have a family devotional time together. She started to cop an attitude and resisted the idea of reading a Bible story together and praying together.

My mind and heart raced for a response. I knew that I had two primary ways of responding: be a dictator and insist that our daughter cheer up and join us in this spiritual moment OR give her the freedom to choose whether or not to join us parents in a devotional reading and prayer.

I chose the latter. I decided that I did not want to force or demand participation in something so special as a time of worship. Instead, I chose the option of invitation. I invited her to the table with us, knowing that she could freely opt out without any hard feelings.

So my wife and gathered at the table, held hands, and started praying. Our daughter was in next room, free to do as she pleased.

While Sarah and I were praying, something beautiful happened…..with our eyes closed, we suddenly felt a small hand join in on top of ours. It was our daughter, freely accepting the invitation to join us in worship. My heart melted for a moment and then we continued our prayer and then read some of the devotional book together. From that point forward, our daughter was actively engaged and the attitude was gone.

I tell this story knowing that not every similar case ends that way. But I couldn’t help but notice a general principle at play that I have noticed when working with children and families in worship settings (or humans of all ages for that matter).

Here is the principle: the idea of invitation. I believe it is critical to invite people to worship and engage with Jesus rather than to force, coerce, or bribe people to such things. For those of us who lead worship experiences, that can feel risky. What if nobody wants to come? What if nobody responds? What if they all walk away? The answer is, it doesn’t matter. What matters is stepping out and worshiping God in Spirit and in truth and offering a free invitation to anyone else who wants to join in. God will work in the hearts of those He is calling to join for that particular time. And if some do not join in at that time, that’s fine. God may still be working in their hearts, just on a different pace or with a different big-picture story.

I wonder if many people are resistant to the Church and to God today because at some point in their lives (probably their childhoods) they felt forced or coerced to do something spiritual. The last thing we want to do to children is communicate the message that God is a dictator that makes them do things they don’t want to do.

Remember that Jesus said “Let the little children come to me” (Mark 10:14; emphasis mine). He did not say, “Make the little children come to me.” The irony in that passage is that the disciples were actually holding the children back. The children wanted to play with Jesus. And Jesus simply said “Let them come to me.”

 

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.

The Thanksgiving Tree

photo-1 photo-2 photo-3
My wife and I had a debate a few nights ago over the meaning of the Christmas Tree. What ensued was a discussion about the “why” behind traditions that we often just take for granted. She doesn’t want to do things just because “we’ve always done it that way.” She likes to know the meaning and purpose in things. And she wants that meaning to be important. So she decided to go ahead and start a new tradition in our house – a tradition with meaning. She made a Thanksgiving Tree.

I did not know this was a thing. But apparently it is. And Sarah made her own version of it. She asked me to find some sticks and branches outside. So I fetched some and put them in a jar. Then she and Kezzie cut leaf shapes out of fall-colored construction paper (orange, brown, etc.). Finally, everyone wrote something they were thankful for on the leaf cut-outs and hung it on the tree.

We had so much fun and it gave us a chance to remember all the things we are so thankful for. It also looks good in our foyer. I guess we’ve started a bit of a tradition in our house.

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.

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.

1024px-March_on_Washington_edit

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.

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.

Want more creative ideas for Children’s and Family Ministry? Sign up for my free newsletter here.

Need a speaker/entertainer for your next event? Check out my promo videos here.

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