Teaching kids to use their talents for good

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Did God the Father Abandon Jesus on the Cross?

“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 evidence:

  1. The ultimate message of Psalm 22 was trust in Yahweh’s covenant faithfulness: God will deliver.
  2. 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.”
  3. The opening lines of psalms were used as titles, therefore, mention of title invokes the whole prayer.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

A Taste of Heaven

A few miles north of Waco, Texas, just off of Interstate 35, sits a Shell gas station and convenience store that looks like any other gas station except for one thing: the line for the convenience store bakery is almost always fifty people deep.

That’s because the bakery, called the Czech Stop, specializes in a little piece of heaven called the kolache.

One summer a few years ago, I was speaking at a Christian camp nearby. Someone from the camp staff declared they were making a “kolache run” and wanted everybody’s order. I had no clue what they were talking about.

“You definitely have to try a kolache, Jesse. It will change your life,” they insisted.

Change my life? The word itself sounded so foreign to me that I didn’t even know what to expect. Was it a donut? Was it some type of specialty drink? Regardless, I told them to surprise me and get whatever everyone else was getting.

Thirty minutes later they returned. The staff member handed me something warm wrapped in wax paper about the size of a softball.

I opened the edible gift and took my first bite.

Yes, it was heavenly.

Inside the soft sweet doughy bread roll was buried a savory chunk of homemade sausage infused with jalapeno bits. I couldn’t believe my mouth.

I was tasting something I had never tasted before. It was a wonderful, mouth-watering experience – something I had never experienced before but now I knew I could have it all over again in the days ahead. It was even large enough to enjoy over half a dozen slow and thoughtful bites.

I was ruined. Now, every time I pass through the Waco area, I have to stop and get me one (or two or three) kolaches. They even come in all sorts of different flavors and fillings. Furthermore, I have become a kolache evangelist, much like the staff member who introduced me to them. Sometimes I come across other kolache lovers and we have a good chat about one of our shared favorite foods.

You know who is better than kolaches? Even infinity times better?

God.

King David challenges us in Psalm 34 to “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8). I love how David mixes two of our five senses (taste and sight) in his song. It’s as if David is saying that experiencing God goes beyond our physical senses and into our spiritual senses – because God is Spirit (John 4:24).

David is like my friend in Texas who told me about a food I had never heard of, knowing that it would change my life if I would just taste it.

When we step out in faith and know God, taste His goodness, experience Him personally, trust Him with our whole selves, we will never be let down. We will see that the LORD is good every single time. This is a promise of God’s Word.

My wife and I struggled with infertility for the first seven years of our marriage. It was hard. We cried a lot – especially when others would tell us that we would make good parents and ask us when we were going to have children. We held the pain inside for many years, not sharing our struggle or pain with anyone but one another.

Then finally one day, we released our pain to God. We shared our infertility story with our close family and friends and asked for their prayers. We had been holding on to our pain without handing it over to God as a prayer request.

You know what happened? About two weeks later, we got pregnant with our first of two miracle daughters, Keziah Grace.

For many years, we were not tasting the goodness of the Lord in that area of our lives. We failed to hand the pain over to Him. When we did, he answered our prayers and delivered a miracle.

I understand that is not the case and story for everyone who struggles with infertility. Every couples’ story and journey is different. There is no perfect formula that says “prayer = miracle baby.” That is simply our story and how God answered our prayers when we finally lifted them up to Him.

But I do believe that whatever the particular story or journey God leads us on, the promise of God is “taste and see = the goodness of the Lord.” Taste and see that God is good. Trust Him with the things in your life that you have never given to him. Trust Him with the things you are holding back. And watch His goodness happen in the creative way that He does in your story.

 

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).

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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?
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An Undivided Heart

I love the simplicity of Scripture. The ability to rely on God and to have an undivided heart comes from Him!

“Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness: give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name” (Psalm 86:11).

Godly Play: A Model for Ministry with Children

Godly Play is a teaching system used by many churches around the world to educate children about God, the Bible, and also invite them into the Christian narrative. Jerome Berryman developed the curriculum and he was influenced by the educational theories of Maria Montessori.

I observed Godly Play in action once when I was in seminary. My professor, Dr. Catherine Stonehouse, ministered with children at her church in Wilmore, KY using Godly Play. As a class, we watched as she sat down at the level of the children and told them the story of Abraham and Sarah using small generic wooden figures and a pile of sand for the Middle Eastern desert. It was very quiet and the children were mesmerized. The whole feel of Godly Play is quite the opposite of many Children’s Ministries, which are full of electronic screens, loud rock band music, video games, and resemble the “Let’s Make a Deal” show.

Godly Play uses symbols, rituals, manipulatives, and storytelling to join children in the spiritual pilgrimage of knowing God. Children are not just receptors of information, but rather natural learners as well as teachers themselves. It is all done with an attitude of holy-awe and unplugged simplicity.

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Here are some resources that explain more about Godly Play. Check them out and let me know what you think!

  1. Godly Play Foundation
  2. Jerome W. Berryman. Godly Play. San Francisco: Harper, 1991.
  3. Jerome W. Berryman. The Complete Guide to Godly Play, Vols 1-8. New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 2002-2012.
  4. Video Introducing Godly Play:

Is Jesus Our Superhero?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Talking to Kids About Martin Luther King, Jr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What did he do?”

“Is he still alive?”

“How did he die?”

“Why did someone kill him?”

“Where was he when he died?”

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

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

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

Here is the gist of the answers I gave:

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

“Is he still alive?” No. 

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

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

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

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

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

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Longest Celebrity Marriage?

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

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

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

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

Photo by Alan Light
Photo by Alan Light

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

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

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