Palm Sunday Lesson

Palm Sundae
Make a “Palm Sundae” in someone’s palms to open up your Palm Sunday. The kids love it and its a fun way to transition into teaching about the real meaning of Palm Sunday.

Here is a brief activity you can use on Palm Sunday in your Children’s Church service. It is designed to be humorous and then lead into teaching the kids the real meaning of Palm Sunday.

Title: “Palm Sunday”

Scripture:  John 12:12-15 NIV

“The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the King of Israel!” Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written, “Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.”

Supplies:  

  • Ingredients for an ice cream sundae and a serving spoon. No bowl necessary!

  • A large trash bag or tarp (a large trash can will work too).

  • (optional) a palm branch.

Summary: You will energetically create an ice cream sundae in the open palms of another person (either another teacher/volunteer or a brave kid with clean hands). You are so thrilled that today is Palm Sunday and you tell the kids that Palm Sunday is the day you get to make an ice cream sundae in your friend’s palms and then eat it. Finally, a “wise person” (another teacher) interrupts you after your shenanigans and advises that Palm Sunday is not about ice cream in palms; it’s about worshipping the Lord Jesus Christ as King. You then proceed to teach the kids about the real story and meaning of Palm Sunday.

Preparation: Gather ingredients for an ice cream sundae. You can be as simple or as elaborate as you like. At least get the ice cream, some chocolate syrup, and some whipped cream. But if you want to go all out, get cherries, sprinkles, a banana, and anything else you like on sundaes. Avoid any nuts or peanut butter products since there may be a child with a nut allergy.

If you can get your hands on a palm branch, whether real or fake, that will help when you get to the real meaning of the story. Have the palm branch hidden from view.

Call up a volunteer (either an adult or a brave child) and tell them to hold out their palms over your trash bag/tarp/trash can (just something to catch dripping ingredients). Tell them to hold together their palms facing up…..

Presentation: With all your energy, tell the kids that you can’t wait for Palm Sunday every year because you get to make an ice cream sundae in your friend’s palms. “That’s what it’s all about kids, right?!” Some will try to interrupt you and correct you, but just keep talking and start making that ice cream sundae. Have fun with it and describe each step as you go. Use your spoon to scoop out some ice cream, then add some syrup, then all your other ingredients. If your friend starts complaining about cold hands, tell them it’s time to eat the sundae! They have to eat the sundae right out of their open palms. The kids will love it!

Finally, a wiser person interrupts you after you’ve milked the moment for all its worth. This other teacher will open up the Bible and read John 12:12-15 to you and explain that Palm Sunday has nothing to do with ice cream. It has everything to do with Jesus as King.*

Proceed to teach a lesson about the real meaning of Palm Sunday, using your Palm Branch as a visual aid. Back then, palms symbolized victory and the fact that Jesus came in on a donkey showed that he was a humble King. Now, we can celebrate Jesus as the one who conquered death and as the King who reigns forever.

*Sources for historical background:

Pat Alexander and David Alexander, Zondervan Handbook to the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 634.

L.A. Losie, “Triumphal Entry,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, eds Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, I. Howard Marshall (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1992), 859.

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Jerusalem IMAX Review

Jerusalem_205x305Yesterday, I saw the IMAX film Jerusalem at the Fernbank Museum in Atlanta. Put out by National Geographic Entertainment, it shows both the bloody history as well as the beautiful peoples and cultures who live there today.

I spent a semester living in the Old City of Jerusalem when I was in college for a study abroad program. I also got to re-visit Israel with my family last May for a few weeks. So this was a film that I was greatly anticipating ever since I heard it was coming out.

The film is a mere 42 minutes long, but it is fully packed with stunning fly-over shots, three-dimensionally moving panoramas, and everyday-life Old City action that really does make you feel like you’re shopping for fresh pita bread just inside of Damascus Gate. The soundtrack is driven by a recurring orchestral riff akin to tracks found in epic action movies (think Daft Punk’s Tron soundtrack).  The only sense it was missing was smell (think a mixture of Old City garbage, ferrel cats, incense, and baklava), but I guess IMAX technology hasn’t reached that level of development yet.

I have to admit, there were a few moments when I wanted to shout out loud “Oh Yeah!” when I saw these beautiful arial views of Jerusalem from various angles. But I kept my thoughts to myself out of respect for the other movie patrons. My eyes raced around the wraparound screen to find the spots where I lived, studied, and visited multiple times. It was a real thrill, and I will come back to see it again (and bring others with me).

It opens with a brief overview of the history of Jerusalem (starting with a nice 19th Century David Roberts painting of the city). The narrator explains why the city has been the centerfold of history, religion, and humanity – brutally fought over more so than any other piece of real estate on the planet. The reasons, of course, include being positioned at the crossroads of the world’s major continents, the elevated bedrock which served as a high holy place for worshippers, and the water coming from the Gihon Spring.

Then we learn about the three major monotheistic religions that call Jerusalem home: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (in that chronological order). Each is given equal attention and the unique culture of each is shown in a positive light. Three young women, each one raised in their respective faith community in Jerusalem, tell the story of their faith from their perspective. The film then displays how these women’s lives (and also their entire communities) live so close yet connect so little. The movie closes with the three ladies, well, I won’t spoil it for you. You have to go see it yourself!

I love Jerusalem the city. The main reason is because it holds so much meaning in the story of my faith as a Christian. But I also love it for the architecture, archaeology, the various people groups, the cultures, the politics, the inescapable intense global issues, and the gorgeous scenery (might I say heavenly?).

Unleashing Your Creative Potential

The interior of the dome of the Pantheon in Rome. Built without modern technology in A.D. 120.
The interior of the dome of the Pantheon in Rome. Built without modern technology in A.D. 120.

Sarah and I recently got to visit Italy – home to some of the world’s greatest art, architecture, and historical sites. It is a very moving experience to stand in front of Rome’ Pantheon or Michaelangelo’s David statue in Florence and reflect on the human ability to create beautiful art.

You could make the case that some people are more gifted at certain skills and talents than others, but we are all still incredibly creative – more so than we give ourselves credit for. I believe God has imparted His image (which includes creativity) upon all humans. We all have a divine creativity deep down inside of us, and unfortunately, many people go through life not tapping what is already there.

I used to think that I was not “the creative type.” Then I realized that that was just a cop-out. Check out what some of the Bible’s first words say:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

That means we are stamped with the image of the one who created the universe out of nothing. Let that sink in for a moment.

When I am juggling or playing the piano (my favorite ways to express creativity), I feel like I am transported to another world. I think that is God’s way of showing us that He has made us all creative in unique ways and we can celebrate His greatness by doing those creative things. He fills our hearts with joy when we create the way He creates.

I recently presented a workshop on this topic. I don’t have all the answers, but I do feel there are some steps we can take that will help us grow in our God-given creativity. Here they are:

1. Realize that you are inherently creative.

2. Explore new things and ideas all the time (even things that seem risky or uncomfortable).

3. Face the fears associated with trying new and creative things.

Whenever I ask for volunteers at my shows, you know who wants to volunteer? Kids. The adults just sit there and stare in any direction except me when I ask for volunteers. The older we get, the more averse we are to trying new or different things. Kids want to try new things all the time. Jesus taught us to have faith like children (Mark 10:15). That’s the only way we can enter the Kingdom of God!

Growing in creativity means returning to a childlike view of the world around us – always exploring, trying, and discovering.

“Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten. Then when you hit puberty they take the crayons away and replace them with dry, uninspiring books on algebra, history, etc. Being suddenly hit years later with the ‘creative bug’ is just a wee voice telling you, ‘I’d like my crayons back, please.”

-Hugh MacLeod

Here is a link to my notes for the workshop if you’re interested. Feel free to use these as long as you give credit as to where you got them 🙂

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1num3oEhjmTdFJHT0lKcW5tSXM/edit?usp=sharing

Children’s Ministry Lesson: The Ten Plagues

red waterI have taught Children’s Church lessons for over a decade and I think yesterday’s lesson on the ten plagues was one of my favorite lessons to ever teach.

Please don’t think that I love dark and dismal things like plagues. They really are pretty negative. Biblically speaking, they were real judgements carried out on lots of people, ultimately leading to death for many.

Thankfully, we are separated by centuries from these ten plagues described in the book of Exodus. That is enough separation of time for me to feel free to use some creative object lessons to help kids remember the story and ultimately – the main point (which has to do with Jesus Christ).

So we had a little fun in re-telling the story. Here’s what I did with each of the plagues to help the kids learn and remember them:

  1. Blood (the Nile turned to blood): I lined the kids up behind a trash can. They each came up with a popsicle stick and a small cup of water. They then dipped the stick (representing Aaron’s staff) into a bottle of red food coloring and transferred the stick to the water. And whahlah: the water turns to blood. We did it right over the trash can so they could throw it all away immediately since red food coloring tends to make some serious stains (like blood 🙂
  2. Frogs – I juggled some stuffed frogs and then threw them at the kids. If you don’t know how to juggle, that’s fine. You can just toss stuffed animal frogs at them!
  3. Gnats – I sprinkled pepper on a child’s arm.
  4. Flies – I brought out my fly swatter and pretended to swat all the flies around me.
  5. Livestock – I juggled some stuffed animals (cow, sheep, horse) and then threw them at the kids. Feel free to skip the juggling part again.
  6. Boils – I put dozens of stickers all over the skin of a volunteer kid (face, arms, neck, etc.).
  7. Hail – I threw marshmallows at the kids: first small ones, then jumbo ones; this was by far their favorite plague.
  8. Locusts – no object lesson here, I just told the story (I guess I needed an object lesson break 🙂
  9. Darkness – I gave all the kids blindfolds and they blindfolded themselves; then I gave them simple commands like waving their hands in front of their faces; from that we discussed how difficult life can be when you can’t see anything (and pitch darkness over a whole city can cause a great deal of havoc).
  10. Firstborn/Passover – I painted some red paint on a piece of wood and spoke about the angel of darkness passing over the homes of the people with the lamb’s blood over their doorstep; I also had all the kids lay down and pretend like they were sleeping – then we pretended it was morning and all the first-born children had to stay down while the others could wake up; it was a good visual of how some kids made it and others did not; I also gave them some unleavened bread to eat.

This then led to the most important part of all – the fact that Jesus is the Lamb of God. And his blood was shed so that we can be set free (as Moses and the Israelites were set free after the Passover). I explained to the kids that I do not think it was a coincidence that Jesus died on the cross at the end of Passover week the year he died. That was the week that Jewish people celebrated the exodus into the wilderness and the angel “passing over” any homes with the lamb’s blood. So also should we have the lamb’s blood (i.e. a relationship with Jesus Christ) and that is the only way we believe we can be free from the judgement of God due to sin.

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Just the Outer Qatza


“Qatza” is the transliterated Hebrew term for “fringe”. I’m reading through the book of Job right now and something struck me in Job’s discourse in chapter 26. This is quoted from the NIV, Job 26:7-14, bold lettering mine:

7 He spreads out the northern [skies] over empty space; he suspends the earth over nothing.
8 He wraps up the waters in his clouds, yet the clouds do not burst under their weight.
9 He covers the face of the full moon, spreading his clouds over it.
10 He marks out the horizon on the face of the waters for a boundary between light and darkness.
11 The pillars of the heavens quake, aghast at his rebuke.
12 By his power he churned up the sea; by his wisdom he cut Rahab to pieces.
13 By his breath the skies became fair; his hand pierced the gliding serpent.
14 And these are but the outer fringe of his works; how faint the whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power?”

Wow. All the magnificent creation around us – that is just the “outer fringe” of the works of God. What we see is just a whisper of his power and glory.

I love this passage because it reminds us of the unfathomable mystery of God – much like the end of Romans 11 in the New Testament, where Paul discusses how “unsearchable” is the mind and judgement of God.

This gives me comfort that I don’t have to have all the answers about God. I don’t have to fully understand Him in order to confess my faith in Him. I don’t have to scientifically prove Him to believe in His grace and power. What I see is just the outer fringe of His fullness.

I Found a New Hobby

Can you name that bird?

I never thought I would admit this, but I just got the “bird-watching” bug this morning. My friend, Kevin, took me on a hike near the James River with a few binoculars and some bird books. He has been birding for a few years and this was my first day. Coincidentally, we happened to run into one of the most “famous” birders in Virginia (according to Kevin). This kind sir (from England originally) knew all there is to know about birds (he called it his “obsession”). Because of his help, I saw 25 unique birds in the wild in a matter of 2 hours of birding – most of them with my binoculars. Here is the list of what I got to see today:

Cardinal
Blue Jay
American Robin
Cedar Waxwing
Mourning Dove
Black Pole Warbler
Red Bellied Woodpecker
Common Grackel
American Redstart
Bay Breasted Warbler
Carolina Chickadee
Spotted Sandpiper
Redwinged Blackbird
Black and White Warbler
Prothonatary Warbler
Turkey Vulture
Carolina Wren
American Goldfinch
Tufted Titmouse
Mockingbird
Cowbird
Mallard Duck
Graycat Bird
Indigo Bunting
Orchard Oriole

Kevin said that learning something new like this allows us to name that which is naturally around us – and the better we get at that, the more we expand our experience in life – which leads to greater joy and appreciation of God’s wonderful Creation.

Again, name that bird (hint, its in the list above)

The Canterbury Cathedral Choir

Sarah and I had a surprising date tonight – a free concert at St. James Episcopal Church in Richmond for the USA tour of the Canterbury Cathedral Choir. This world-renowned choir of men and boys is on their first US tour in 10 years and is making stops in NYC and DC, among other places. They stopped here in Richmond for a concert tonight, which was superb.

They sang a beautiful French piece called Cantique de Jean Racine by Gabriel Faure, which I had sung as a senior in High School. They also did the magnificent Zadok the Priest, which is often sung at coronations and other royal events.

Afterwards, there was a reception full of yummy foods. Sarah and I got to meet some of the young choristers and ask them questions about their lives. I found out that thousands of boys audition for a few dozen spots. They board at Canterbury for school, and they practice their singing every day. This choir has a 1400-year tradition of performing.

After watching Bill Maher’s movie Religulous earlier in the day (his “treatise” on hedonism and why theistic faith is delusional and destructive), I was struck with the thought of the wondrous beauty in the music of human voices (just listen to a clip of this choir on iTunes). Could such sounds really be the result of godless chance? I seriously doubt it. And that’s what Maher wanted me to do as a result of watching his movie – doubt. I just don’t think he had that type of doubt in mind when he produced the movie.

Phoenix and Boston in One Weekend

This past weekend, I got to spend time in both Phoenix and Boston – and half of it was unplanned! I did a scheduled trip to Phoenix as I got to share my juggling presentation at a church on Easter Sunday in Prescott, AZ. The people there at Heights Church were great to me. On Easter afternoon, a family invited me over for a big extended family lunch. They lived out in the desert country. While driving to their house, which sits on some 40 acres of family property overlooking a beautiful mountain range, I passed an elderly couple running their dog while driving their car. Yes, they had the leash out the driver’s side window and the poor dog was trying to keep up with the running vehicle, with other cars trying to go around it all. Now, that is redneck.

After great food and socializing, I took my first four-wheeling trip of my life. The dad and son took me up into the hills to see some ruins, a water spring, and an old mine with a wild owl that was protecting her eggs. It reminded me of the Humphrey Bogart movie The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (if you haven’t seen it, it is a great narrative of the gold rush days).

On Monday, my friend dropped me off at the airport with about an hour before my flight. But it ended up being the wrong terminal (long story). So I took the shuttle to the right terminal and ended up being too late to check my bags for the flight. It was then impossible for them to re-route me to Richmond, Virginia that night. I had to be re-routed through some other city and arrive home the next day – and pay for my own hotel somewhere.

One of my re-routing options was Boston. So I called my college roommate, who lives in Boston (at BU) with his wife, and he was delighted to hear from me and was excited to put me up for the night. He just happened to have the day off on Tuesday (so did I). So he and I saw one another for the first time in several years and spent all day walking the streets of Boston and eating authentic Italian pizza in the North End. We even took the free tour at the world headquarters for the Church of Christian Science (the “reading room” folks). That was very educational, since neither of us Protestant boys knew much about this Christian Science group. Not to mention, the architecture and grand organ of the building were stunningly beautiful. The entire day was a pleasant surprise for both of us.

God is so good. He takes what seems to be disasters (missed flights) and somehow turns them into glorious experiences (seeing a long-missed friend).

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