Living Inside Out

For the past few Wednesday nights the children and I have been talking about being chosen. In Ephesians 1:4-5, Paul shares with us that we have been chosen by God. Personally, I believe that is a fundamental truth to know, internalize and protect. There is so much in the world that tries to nullify that. We are bombarded with both subliminal and blatant messages of not being good enough. These messages start to erode for us the truth of this passage and as we grow older our confidence in it fades. But, we know that God’s word is truth and it can be trusted fully.

In this passage, it also states that before the world was created, God chose us. So, before anything came into being, God had already decided that both you and I, and so many others, were His through Christ. Take a moment to just soak in the awesomeness of that. Before anything that is existed, He selected us to be His. Not only did He choose us, but he chose us to be holy and blameless in His sight. God loved us.

Because He loved us, He wanted us to be His children and thus, adopted us into His family.   The scripture says “it pleased God to do it.” He cared about us just that much. Although this passage is written in past tense, none of God’s feelings towards us have changed, nor will they ever. His love isn’t conditional, situational nor temporal. It is everlasting.

Solid in our understanding and faith in being loved, chosen by God and a part of His family it is time to live this out. Starting October 8th we will be doing just that in our new Wednesday night program “Living Inside Out”- daring to live our faith 24/7. This is going to be a great experience where our children will learn spiritual truths and practically apply these principles to their everyday lives throughout the week. The following week, armed with their scripture memory makers (memorized bible verses) and completed “Live It Challenge”, children will be able to boldly share what God’s word says about who He is, who they are and what they’ve been called to do.

A few months ago I attended a Children’s Ministry workshop as part of a larger church development symposium. There is one thing that the speaker said that made a profound impact on me. She shared her thoughts on how churches do such a disservice to children and youth. For, as we grow up it is 100% guaranteed that we’ll face challenges, hard decisions and spiritual battles. Although it is inevitable, many churches take a reactive approach to ministry. Instead of proactively providing the tools and resources needed to have a sturdy armor, we send our children out into the world with little to no preparation. Then, they come back bruised, nearly defeated and hurt and then as adults we begin equipping them with the armor they so badly needed 10-15 years ago.

We can’t afford that type of misstep. God’s kingdom is too important to passively deposit biblical principles into our children. Instead, with the same fervor that we support temporal undertakings that have no type of eternal bearing on our lives, take up an eternal cause that means the difference between life and death. “Living Inside Out” is a fun and meaningful way to do this- depositing spiritual truths that will sustain children as they grow and as they live them. Join us on Wednesday nights!

Verb- It’s What You Do!

It's What You Do!
                 It’s What You Do!

I admit it. I LOVE cartoons! Perhaps that makes me a big kid at heart, I don’t know. But, I love watching them (and often use my nephew as an excuse to do so).   Even in my 20s before he came along I was watching Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and sometimes I’d even sneak in a little Disney. In fact, that’s how I came across this catchy slogan – “Verb. It’s what you do.” In my opinion, this was an awesome ad campaign created by the Center for Disease Control to get kids moving and exercising. Every time I watched my favorite cartoons the commercial was guaranteed to play. I liked it so much, I quickly integrated it into my grammar lessons for my students. It is so simple to remember and it emphasizes the purpose of this part of speech- to show action.

Last Sunday during our Children’s Message I shared this great slogan with the children. David Joseph preached about “Passing On the Legacy of Our Faith”, using Matthew 28:16-20 as the text. Most Christians know this passage very well so I wanted to give them exposure to it before transitioning into Children’s Church on the 3rd floor. This passage is after Jesus’ resurrection, just before He ascends to heaven. He provides His disciples with a few parting words, which we know as “The Great Commission”. In it, Jesus provides clarity on what our mission as Christians is. Yes, He is telling us what to do.

Looking specifically at verses 19 and 20, there are a number of verbs in this passage. So, what have we been called to do?

19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.

Go: We must share the good news with others. Simply worshipping on Sunday and attending classes isn’t enough. It is imperative (and expected by Jesus) that we venture outside the four walls of our church, outside our comfort zones, into our communities, schools, and uncommon places to share what we know and believe about our Lord and Savior.

Teach: It isn’t enough to say we’re a Christian. We need to show others what that means. The children shared ways that they can teach others, such as sharing that God loves us and sent Jesus to die for our sins. Yes! This is a truth that all need to hear and understand. Also, we can teach others about Jesus through our life, modeling the character of a disciple of Christ.

Baptizing: For the children, we discussed how to get people connected to pastors, preachers, deacons, etc. that can help with processing the decision for baptism and then completing the act. As witnesses, we can guide and support others with this vital life decision that has eternal implications.

Observe:  Again, our life can be a model of how to live out our faith and observe God’s commands and principles.

There are some additional verbs in this passage. In verse 20, we see that Jesus did something. He commanded us to do these actions. It wasn’t a suggestion or a hope. No, it was and continues to be an expectation for every believer.

Now, for the part that gets me extra excited! There is a linking verb here. By definition, linking verbs don’t show action but instead they connect the subject to the verb by sharing information about the subject. Verse 20b states “and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” In this affirmation, am is the linking verb. This word is telling us information about our subject (Jesus). This verse states that He is always with us. So, as we go, He is there. As we teach, He is there. As we baptize, He is there. When we observe all these things, He is there. Even unto the end of the world, He is there. At all times, no matter how bleak or challenging, frightening or uncertain- HE IS THERE! As we put these verbs into practice, Jesus is right there leading, guiding and helping the entire way. That is an awesome truth to know and promise to hold onto.

Chosen

“God chose us to belong to Christ before the world was created. He chose us to be holy and without blame in His eyes. He loved us.” Ephesians 1:4

In elementary school, I was the kid that hated the humiliating process of picking teams during gym. Although I have many talents, athletics is not one of them. But every week, I went through the same excruciating pain of waiting for my name to be called to join a team. Because I was a nice kid and in with the “cool crowd”, I usually wasn’t the absolute last one to be picked (but pretty close). But, we all knew I was chosen for my “winning personality” versus how far I could kick a ball or how well I could swing a bat.

The truth is, by in large nobody wants to not be chosen, no matter what the activity is. On Wednesday evening, the children and I talked a bit about this. Each of us has been chosen by God. That fact alone is awesome news. Despite my hang-ups, faults, mistakes and unworthiness, God has chosen me to be a part of his family. In fact, I’ve been adopted into his family. He actively chose and redeemed me to be his child. Through Christ Jesus, I am recognized as His child and treated accordingly.

The scripture goes on to share that before time began, before anything was created, God selected ME. And He hand-selected you too! To know that he thought enough of you to set you a part for his purpose- that is awesome. I don’t know about you, but it almost blows my mind that he cares enough to pick me to be a part of his family. Unworthy and insignificant me.

Why did he do that? The answer is simple. He loved us. That is why. He cared so much about each of us that he made provisions for us to be redeemed to Himself through Christ’s actions on the cross.

This leads me naturally to the next question. Why did he choose me? What is so special about me that he’d select me to be his child? I was chosen because of who He knew I’d be, the skills and talents that are undeniably my own, the product of his handiwork. You’ve heard me speak some on this subject before- the uniqueness of each of us. I think it is so important to celebrate what makes each of us unique. For, that is often where our power lies, in being an asset to God and utilizing what makes each of us one of a kind. Of course as we mature, our talents, skills and abilities will develop and expand in ways we never imagined.

It is never too early to plant the seed in a child’s heart about what makes them special, loved and chosen by God. So, we discussed that too last night. Responses such as “I am good at sounding-out words” may not seem too special. Maybe it isn’t. In my mind, though- it is. That tells me you are determined, focused and don’t give up easily. When asked to identify what is special about each member of our group, one person responded about his sister, “she reads to me”. That displays a loving and nurturing spirit.

We ran out of time, but next week we’ll document our ideas of why God chose each of us. I call it our “Chosen Photo Shoot”. We’ll be surrounded by the words that denote why we are special. It isn’t exhaustive and likely not a literal one-to-one correspondence of what God intends to use for His glory. However, it is a good reminder of the fact that we have been hand-picked by a loving God, entrusted with some incredible abilities and skills that will equip us to be worthy representatives for Him as His children.

Goals for Back to School

Didn’t school just let out for the summer? It sure feels like it to me. But, all our children are back in school now for a brand new school year. Back-To-School season usually carries with it a multitude of feelings. Excitement of reconnecting with friends. Anticipation of what your new teacher and classmates will be like. Nervousness of making new friends or maintaining old relationships. Whether your child communicates it to you or not, often the prospect of learning new concepts and growing in physical, mental, social and emotional realms are on their minds. How can we help our children vocalize them and proactively plan to deal with them?

 

At the last Parent’s Night Out, hosted by the Youth Ministry, Ron led our children in determining goals for the next school year. Each child created a vision board that highlighted what he or she wanted to achieve the coming school year. Most of the children in attendance were either rising preschoolers or kindergarteners. Some may think that at that age they don’t have many things that they want to achieve. The exact opposite is true. In fact, their concerns for academic attainments, health and fitness and relationships are just as real at that age as middle and high schoolers.

 

They did a wonderful job of depicting what they plan to achieve during this academic year! Then, many volunteered to share their goals with the rest of the group. As I think about this experience, I naturally begin to reflect upon the spiritual implications and the foundation we are laying for our children. In Habakkuk 2:2 it says “write the vision and make it plain”. Each child’s vision board is evidence of that act of faith.

 

Now that the vision/goal has been cast, it is time to put faith into action. For, Paul reminded us that “faith without works is dead”. I’m certain that many have started working on their goals, whether intentionally or not. Let’s support and encourage them. This can be done by first praying for them and each goal they have set- asking that God bless their endeavors, allowing Him to be glorified as a result.

 

This Sunday as you join us in our “Promotion Sunday” celebration, take a moment to ask a few children and youth what they would like to achieve this year. Then, during your private prayer time, ask God to bless these endeavors and to allow His will to be manifested in their lives.

 

Our children and youth are very special gifts that God has entrusted to us. As a church body, remember them in your prayers and speak encouraging words in love. Whether you realize it or not, small acts of kindness and expressions of caring can mean a lot!

 

So, again I challenge you- find a child this Sunday and find out what he or she is interested in achieving this year. Then, check-in with them every few weeks to see how it is going. You never know, that just might be the extra push a person needs to stick with it and press towards their goals!

Agency D3 – Another Successful Class of Special Agent Recruits

This past week we presented our evening VBS with the return of Agency D3.  Condensed into a 4-day fact-finding mission, our special agents continued to discover, decide and defend evidence about Jesus.  What did you miss?

 

Preschool Children
Day 1 Is Jesus Really God’s Son?

 

Bible Story: Jesus is God’s Son (Matthew 3:13-17; John 1:29-36)

Is Jesus Really God’s Son?

 

Bible Story: An Eyewitness Report (Matthew 3:13-17; John 1:29-36)

 

The evidence proves that Jesus is God’s son.

Day 2 Was Jesus More Than Just a Good Man?

 

Bible Story: Jesus is Not Like Anyone Else (Mark 6:30-56)

Was Jesus More Than Just a Good Man?

 

Bible Story: Background Check (Mark 6:1-6, 30-56)

 

The evidence proves that Jesus was more than a good man.

Day 3 Did God Have a Plan for Jesus?

 

Bible Story: God’s Plan for Jesus (Mark 14:12-28; John 3:19)

Was Jesus’ Death Real?

 

Bible Story: Death Confirmed (Mark 14:12-22, 15:22-47)

 

The evidence proves that Jesus’ death was real.

Day 4

 

Is Jesus Alive?

 

Bible Story: The Disciples Saw Jesus (Luke 24:1-12, 36-48)

 

Can I Tell What I Know About Jesus?

 

Bible Story: Peter Told About Jesus (Acts 2:14-42)

Is Jesus Alive?

 

Bible Story: Physical Proof (Luke 24:1-48)

 

The evidence proves that Jesus is alive.

 

What do I Do with the Evidence About Jesus?

 

Bible Story: Summing Up the Evidence (Acts 2:14-42; 1 Peter 3:15)

 

Use the evidence about Jesus to defend your faith.

 

Our youth and adults explored the same content while exploring the historical context and contemporary application.  Thank you to all of our Field Agents (teachers) that did a phenomenal job in making this a special experience for all involved!

Learning How to Multiply

My memory isn’t that great. I’d like to say that’s a function of the aging process but truth is, I’ve never had a good memory. That’s why I try to write everything down- for future reference and reflection. Now, if only I could remember where I’ve put that piece of paper!

On Sunday, after the 9:30AM service, I greeted our music intern, Kim Ness, and told her how much I liked the song she sang. Of course, I couldn’t remember the name of the song I’d liked and the paper where I wrote a note about it wasn’t readily accessible. So with very little information to go on, she just smiled politely and said thank you, all probably while thinking I was just a little odd. And that song I liked so much? I forgot about it.

Until yesterday. I was flipping through my bible, not knowing exactly what I was looking for. I came upon the note I wrote on Sunday’s bulletin. Under the name of the song I couldn’t remember (Oceans by Hillsong United) I saw the words I’d written “trust without borders”. So, I engaged one of my best friends, Google, to find the lyrics to the song. Believe me, I’m so glad I did!

Although I know this very well, I often find myself being reminded of the fact that nothing surprises God. Sure the happenings of everyday life may catch us off guard, but the all-powerful, all-knowing, creator of everything that is- our God, is never caught unaware. I imagine He has a slight surge of excitement when the “unexpected” happens because He can’t wait to see us in action, guide us through the challenges and see us grow in our faith.

Actually, this reminds me of my days teaching 3rd grade. One thing that I absolutely loved about the teaching experience was building competencies and skills in my kids. The introduction of multiplication was always a fun time for me. See, I get that multiplication can be a scary thing for kids. You’re being introduced to a new concept, a whole new set of facts to master and terminology that is foreign. Often when I’d share that we were moving into multiplication, my students were eager because it instantly made them feel older and smarter. The thought of knowing how to multiply made their chests puff out a little. But at the same time there was some uneasiness about this new skill to be mastered.

At the school I worked at we did flexible grouping for math. I usually taught those that were on-grade level and one year taught the below-grade level group. When the time came to introduce multiplication, I whipped out my goldfish crackers. It was time to have some fun!

See, the way I introduced multiplication was through the use of those yummy goldfish crackers, to build arrays. We went step by step to build understanding of what multiplication is- nothing more than repeated addition. I explained how the number of rows and the number of goldfish in a row translated into a mathematical sentence. I’d give the kids a repeated addition math problem, we’d build an array, translate the addition into a multiplication sentence and discuss the process. Once we completed a series of questions successfully, they’d eat their snacks. This process continued for a few days, usually culminating with the use of M&Ms or Skittles as a sweet treat for mastering the fundamentals of multiplication.

What does this have to do with this song that I’m now in love with? Well, I think about how God often works. The same scaffolding provided in the array example is what God does with us. First, just as a child knows they’ll eventually be introduced to more advanced concepts, we instinctively know that challenges will arise in our life. And as the teacher, God has planned for our successful mastery of the challenge. For, everything that we experience up to that point has prepared us for that moment of introduction into something new. He’s ready to provide the tools for success at just the moment we need them. The lessons we’ve learned during our days of “addition” help us as we progress into “multiplication”, which is only the next logical step in our maturation, right?

Once again I am reminded, no matter what happens in my life, big or small, God is already aware and knows exactly what I need to be successful in progressing through it. He’s designed past experiences so that the knowledge and skills that I’d need to apply, develop and refine in this next phase were solidified. Also, He’s prepared to guide me every step of the way through this current situation. I imagine (because I do have a vivid one that may be a bit too much for traditionalists) that just how I used to be giddy with excitement the first day of our lesson on multiplication and smiled at the looks of concern on my students face when they learned that the time had come, that God is just like that with us. He’s thrilled about what’s about to take place. He knows that His child is about to learn something new that will mature him or her and serve as a building block for future learning. Enthusiasm is what I imagine God feels when we reach the threshold of a new valley. For, He’s standing right beside us, ready to usher us into this new place.

I think the reasons that my kids didn’t completely melt down when we learned anything new was that:

1. They understood that I loved and cared about them. I was going to make sure they were okay throughout the process.

2. They trusted me and were willing to let me guide them.

3. Learning is what school is about anyway. Therefore, they weren’t surprised or testy when I announced we were learning something new. They may not have known what was going to be taught but they knew that they would learn.

Isn’t that what our lives as Christians are all about- learning and growing in our walk? God loves and cares for us. He is committed to ensuring we’re okay, especially during the difficult times in life. As the lines in Oceans state,

Your grace abounds in deepest waters

Your sovereign hand Will be my guide

Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me

You’ve never failed and You won’t start now

There is no reason to doubt God.  For, He is there guiding me.  Despite the uncertainty that surrounds me I know that I can trust him because He has never failed me before.  And yes, He won’t start now!

Finally, I go back to that one line that resonated in my spirit on Sunday. “Spirit lead me where trust is without borders.” That is a prayer I’ve prayed for a few months now. Not exactly in those words but with the same intention. I’ve asked God to keep me safe under His wing. For, I want to be so close to Him, so aligned with His will that the only place I can be is safely tucked under His wings of protection. By being fully covered by Him I am submitting to His full authority and declaring, where You take me, I will follow. So, lead me where You’d have me go, teach me what I need to learn next and develop my faith so that doubt is replaced with unlimited trust because I know that even though I can’t see what is next, You can, and it’s guaranteed to be awesome!

Therefore, see this as encouragement for anything you may be going through. God is not surprised at all about what is happening in and around You. He has prepared you for this time in life and will be beside you every step of the way as you multiply your trust and faith. Place your full trust in Him and allow Him to guide you through. I guarantee, He will provide everything you need at just the right time. One day you’ll look back and wonder why you were ever uneasy about learning how to multiply in the first place.

Finding Fruit in Old Town

During the month of July the Children’s and Youth Ministries hosted a series of “Family Fun Nights” on Wednesday evenings. We started the month with an outing at Great Waves Waterpark. Then, we practiced our batting skills at Miracle Field as part of field day activities. Last week about 20 youth and adults took to the lanes at Bowl America, where I wowed everyone with my bowling skills!  This Wednesday we ended on a high note with a photo scavenger hunt. The weather was perfect as our group scouted the neighborhood.

 

The objective was for the team to find the fruit of the Spirit in action in our community. By observing individuals, the group would be able to see the fruit displayed in people’s everyday lives. As you may have read in earlier posts, our children completed an extensive study of the fruit of the spirit in June. This was actually a really good activity to reinforce what they’d learned. This is what the group was directed to do:

 

Rules of Play

  • Take one picture per fruit.  Look for people displaying the fruit as part of their everyday lives.  (Since some were more difficult to find than others, they were allowed to “stage” up to 2 photographs.)

 

Yum, cookies!  It takes a great deal of self-control not to devour these!
Yum, cookies! It takes a great deal of self-control not to devour these!
  • Give the person a “Fruit in Action” card for the fruit they displayed.  Explain to them why their picture was taken.
  • Go anywhere in Old Town to complete the scavenger hunt (walking or driving).

 

The team, made up of children and adults, armed with a digital camera and a lot of excitement, ventured out into Old Town.  Take a look at what they found:

Love!
Love!
A game of volleyball is a joy for these friends.
A game of volleyball is a joy for these friends.
Enjoying the peace of the water at sunset.
Enjoying the peace of the water at sunset.
Kindness:  The children sing "Happy Birthday" and do somersaults.
Kindness: The children sing Happy Birthday and do somersaults.
Goodness: A picnic dinner to celebrate a friend’s birthday.

Using gentleness when petting the dog.
Using gentleness when petting the dog.

 

As you can see, the group found many examples of the fruit of the Spirit Wednesday evening.  As they identified each one, the children eagerly shared what they knew about the fruit of the Spirit with those they met.  Then, they provided a “Fruit in Action” card to each person/group to reinforce how their seemingly normal actions were able to teach us about these virtues.  The card reads:

Fruit In Action Card

Not only did they get to see the practical application of Galatians 5:22-23, they were able to share and encourage others.  One gentleman actually asked for more information about the fruit of the Spirit.  Isn’t that awesome!  The boldness and enthusiasm of our members ushered in an opportunity for others to learn more about our Lord.  Not only was it a great way to spend a summer evening, it may have been just what someone needed to experience.  Perhaps someone needed to be reminded of the Holy Spirit that resides (or wishes to reside) within them.  Or, perhaps someone was struggling with feeling valued, worthy or “good”.  It even could have been an unbeliever that the group met during the activity that received his or her first positive encounter with God through believers.  The possibilities of the impact that was made in Old Town are numerous.  But one thing is evident- His Spirit was present!