I recently returned from Pine Creek Camp in Gore, VA. I was the camp pastor for two weeks with several hundred preteen kids and their chaperones from Assembly of God churches around Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, D.C., and West Virginia.
I speak at many camps each summer, but this one stuck out because of the format they asked me to follow. First of all, there were two chapel services each day for the kids – one in the morning and one in the evening. The morning service was designed to be the “main” service of the day (in terms of worship music and teaching time) with the evening service being more of a “review and respond” service.
So in the evenings, I taught for about 10 minutes, just reviewing the points we learned about in the morning. Then, for the remainder of the service (another 45 minutes to an hour), we spent responding to God’s Word through the format of worship stations.
The camp told me this ahead of time. So I wrote up some station ideas that went along with my lessons each day. The leadership at the camp then took all my ideas and turned them into reality by getting the supplies, setting up the stations, and manning them each night.
The results were amazing. We realized that kids learn and respond in a variety of ways, depending on their learning languages. Some kids respond well with hands-on and interactive activities while others are fine being still or reading. Most kids have a variety of learning styles inside of them anyway, so it’s good to have the different stations so they can move around freely as they like. I’d like to take a few posts to share the ideas and pictures from the worship response stations.
Here is a quick rundown of the stations. I will go into more details with each one in subsequent posts.
- Prayer Counseling – This is the traditional idea of having prayer counselors on hand if a kid or adult needs prayer for anything. This is usually the only “station” people offer as a way of response at camp or in church. We still used it, but it was only one of many ways to respond.
- Question Cards – If the kids had a question about God or the Bible, they wrote them down on a 3×5 card and handed it to an adult. The adult would then attempt to find the answer in the Bible and answer the question. If they couldn’t find it, then they would say “I don’t know” or “I’ll look it up later and get back it you.” This was a surprisingly popular station for the kids.
- World Prayer Map – There was a map on the wall and the kids would go up and place a sticker star on a country, city, or location of a people group and pray for them.
- Slime Buckets – One night, we taught about Jonah. In order to explore the idea of what it may have felt like to be inside the belly of a great fish, the kids put their hands in slime. This was obviously very popular.
- Blindfolded Prayer – Also along the story of Jonah (who prayed in pitch darkness inside the belly of the fish), we had the kids put on a blindfold and then sit or kneel and pray. One leader said this station was the first time he had seen one of his boys pray. Sometimes it takes some creative way that really connects with a particular kid to open them up to things like prayer and worship.
- Kids Pray for Adults – I will devote an entire post to this station, as it was my favorite of all the stations. Kids were on hand to pray for adults who wanted prayer. It was humbling for adults and exciting for kids. More on this one later.
- The Wooden Cross – This is another traditional station that many groups have used for years. I believe it is still very powerful in form and function. The large wooden cross reminds us of what Jesus did for us and we have the chance to lay prayers and confessions at the cross by writing them on a piece of paper and nailing them to the cross.
- Prayer Journaling/Drawing – This was also a very popular one. We had stacks of paper and boxes of crayons, markers, and pencils on hand. The kids would simply grab some paper and something to write/draw with and freely journal or draw pictures as prayers, thanksgivings to God, and other worship thoughts on their minds.
- Finger Painting – On the day when we learned about Creation, the kids got to draw pictures of things that God made on a large white poster using finger paints. This was extremely popular and looked very pretty when it was all done.
- Other Stations – There were also stations with bead bracelets, mouse traps, clay and play-do, bowls of fruit, a white board with a dry erase marker, and Scripture reading. I will discuss each one in subsequent posts.
Let me know if you have done worship response stations and what they looked like. Thanks for reading!
All photos are credited to Kelly Gibbs. Thanks Kelly!
According to the Gospel of John, Jesus died before the other two men crucified next to him (John 19:33). John explains that the Jews did not want Jesus’ body hanging on the cross during the special Sabbath, which was the day following the crucifixion. So Pilate gave special permission for the bodies of the three men to be removed before the Sabbath.
It is important to note the difference between “crucifixion” and “death” here. Crucifixion is being hung on a cross, which more often than not leads to death. One could conceivably survive a crucifixion (some naysayers of the resurrection suggest Jesus survived it). One way the executioners could speed up the death on a cross (and virtually guarantee it) was to break the legs of the crucified. Without good legs, one cannot hold themselves up on the cross to breath whatever good breaths they can get in while hanging there.
And that is exactly what the Roman soldiers did to finish the job of killing the crucified men next to Jesus. But when they got to Jesus to break his legs, they noticed something remarkable – Jesus was already dead. Instead of breaking his legs, they jabbed his side with a spear – resulting in a spilling of blood and water (John 19:34).
I say remarkable because we could imagine Jesus, who worked many impressive miracles (including raising the dead) outliving the two mortals on either side of him. But they actually outlived Jesus on the cross. There is an old saying (not directly Biblical) that Jesus died of a broken heart. One could make an argument that he did – both physically and spiritually. His physical heart would have burst by the sheer trauma of crucifixion. His spiritual heart was bearing the sin of the world, crying out to His Father, “Forgive them, for they know not what they are doing!” (Luke 23:34).
This weekend, before the glorious Resurrection Day (which is tomorrow), we remember the death of Jesus and what He went through on our behalf. His suffering was so great and violent that he died before men like you and me in the same situation. He emptied Himself. He lowered Himself (Phil 2). That is the extent of His love for us. And He did it all in obedience to and for the glory of the Father.
I think Jesus dying without having his legs broken speaks to His amazing love for us. Instead of trying so hard to live on the cross – he gave Himself up for us. It also fulfills the prophecy (as reported by John) found in the Old Testament about his bones not being broken (Ex 12:46; Num 9:12; 34:20).
Have a Happy Resurrection Day tomorrow! Picture below is The Entombment of Christ by Caravaggio (1602-3)
The first time was on Easter weekend about five years ago. My flight was diverted (due to weather, I think) to a different city than originally planned. I rented a car and drove to my show. My luggage was still lost somewhere in airlinedom. So I did what any sensible juggler would do: I went to Walmart at 2am and bought over $200 worth of machetes, baseball bats, plates, tennis rackets, fishing nets, extendable poles (for balancing), various types of fruit, and whatever else I thought was juggle-able. I did my show the next morning and then gave all my stuff away (including the machetes) to any kid who could recite the memory verse of the day to me. It was a thrill. Delta ended up paying me back for my Walmart bill!
The second time I lost my luggage before a show was last week in Mississippi. This time, though, I did not have time to do my Walmart thing. My flight got me to Memphis, TN and my luggage went to Tupelo, MS (the mix up was also weather related). And I was going to just barely make it for the show. The only problem was that I was an hour and a half from my show and my host was not able to come that far because they were setting up for the Upward program. So I called my friend Jason Blackburn (the man who knows everyone in northern Mississippi). He of course knew a guy who was commuting from near the airport to where I needed to go. So Ricky pulled up at the airport a few minutes later and told me to hop in. Southern hospitality is not dead, folks.
But that was only half the battle. My show was coming up fast, and I had none of my luggage. Nearly a thousand people were filling into the Bull Ring in Pontotoc, MS waiting for a juggling show. Meanwhile, I was rummaging through the Children’s Ministry closet of my host church, grabbing balls, stuffed animals, a ladder, some hula hoops, and whatever else I could juggle.
We rushed into the Bull Ring and I set my stuff up on two flatbed trailers before a sea of people ready for the show. They showed their league highlights video and then introduced me. I somewhat nervously began and then proceeded to have a great time presenting a show and message to a crowd that had no idea I lost my luggage. They say that necessity is the mother of invention. That was the case for this show as I tossed around things that I had never laid my hands on before. It challenged me to press on and just do my best with what I have. God was in control, and I pray that His Word was presented clearly. That is the most important part of my show anyway, and juggling equipment is not necessary for God’s Word to spread, just the power of His Holy Spirit.
There is a lesser known Pieta sculpture by Michelangelo in the Duomo’s Museo in Florence, Italy (also known as The Deposition or The Florentine Pieta). His famous one is the Pieta with Mary and Jesus on display in St. Peter’s Basilica in The Vatican City.
The one in Florence depicts Nicodemus (whose face is a self-portrait of Michelangelo), Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Jesus. Jesus falls limp towards the ground as Nicodemus and the Marys hold his corpse from falling completely. It is a masterpiece that only Michelangelo can make.
When Sarah and I went to Italy last month, we were there at the lowest tourist season all year – mid-January. Who wants to go anywhere in mid-January?…We do! Because there are no crowds (the hotels are cheaper too).
The crowds were so low that we had this entire Michelangelo masterpiece to ourselves. Instead of large tour groups cramming the space around the sculpture, we had the freedom to walk around it, gaze upon it, ponder it, and appreciate the moment without feeling rushed.
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.”
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.
Yesterday, 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?).
Yesterday, I taught on the wise men from the Christmas story in Matthew 2. I always love teaching on this part of the Christmas story because there is so much more in the text than we usually learn from a simple nativity scene.
Here are three things that might help as you assemble your lesson if you’re teaching this story…..
First of all, the wise men probably arrived in Bethlehem sometime between when Jesus was two months old and two years old. The text says that they came from the East (probably anywhere from Iraq to India) after the baby was born, first to Jerusalem, then to Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1). The travel time alone is at least two months. So the idea that they came at the same time as the angels and the shepherds (like most nativity scenes show) is a faulty amalgamation of the Matthew narrative and the Luke narrative with no regard to the historical timeline. Jesus was probably two years or younger at this time because Herod wanted to kill all baby boys two and under when he found out he had been outwitted by the wise men, who never reported back to Herod about the whereabouts of the child (Matthew 2:16).
Secondly, we don’t know how many wise men there were. The text simply says that there were wise men from the East (Matthew 2:1). So there could have been two or five hundred (or thousands). We get the number three from the number of gifts they brought – gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Thirdly, I love showing the kids some modern day examples of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These were practical baby shower gifts. The gold was simply money that they could use for travel, lodging, baby needs, etc. The frankincense was a type of incense one could burn as an act of worship/offering at the temple – something Mary and Joseph would certainly want to do upon the birth of their new baby. And the myrrh was a healing aloe – perfect for baby rashes, cuts, and bruises.
So as modern day examples, I show the kids some gold colored coins (the US presidential dollar coins are perfect for this), candles for the frankincense, and aloe/lotion for the myrrh. Then I juggle all three things (naturally). After all, Mary and Joseph did have a lot to juggle as new parents 🙂
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:
- 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 🙂
- 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!
- Gnats – I sprinkled pepper on a child’s arm.
- Flies – I brought out my fly swatter and pretended to swat all the flies around me.
- Livestock – I juggled some stuffed animals (cow, sheep, horse) and then threw them at the kids. Feel free to skip the juggling part again.
- Boils – I put dozens of stickers all over the skin of a volunteer kid (face, arms, neck, etc.).
- Hail – I threw marshmallows at the kids: first small ones, then jumbo ones; this was by far their favorite plague.
- Locusts – no object lesson here, I just told the story (I guess I needed an object lesson break 🙂
- 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).
- 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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I’ve got some exciting news. I have partnered with some other jugglers from the Christian Jugglers Association and we are happy to introduce to you a non-profit called Circus 4 Ever. This is an organization that exists to make an eternal impact on lives around the globe using juggling and circus arts. Our primary objectives are to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ by helping to fund mission outreach efforts that incorporate the circus arts, to provide circus arts training and equipment for kids around the world, and to help meet both spiritual and physical needs in the process. Check it out by clicking here to learn more or to make a tax-deductible donation.
The story of Christ’s birth in Matthew contains 5 prophecies (between Matthew 1:18 and 2:23). It is easy to focus on the virgin conception as a stand-out miracle in the life of Christ (and it is), but it is also easy to overlook the miracle of multiple fulfilled prophecies surrounding the birth of Jesus.