One of my favorite things to do when teaching children Bible stories is role play. The old adage, ‘kids say the darndest things’ is true for a reason. Recently, we were doing a Christmas production in a friend’s home using some simple dramatic conventions to tell the story of Christ’s birth. Afterwards, Samson, the four-year old of the house said that he wanted to play a part of the story. So, I dressed him up as the shepherd and I played the angel (typecasting) and we set out to recreate the scene when the angel appears to the shepherd. We gathered some makeshift props like the dog playing the sheep, which was harder to control and a mop handle for a staff. Then lights, camera and action! Samson acted afraid when the angel appeared. He showed surprise at the angel’s announcement and then wonder at the good news. Then….scene change. We traveled across the living room to the kitchen where Mary and Joseph were with the child in a stable. We recruited a couple of innocent bystanders eating cheese and crackers and grabbed a paper plate for the manger. The closest thing we could find to play the baby was a stuffed teddy bear. But no questions were asked as we entered the scene. I led him to the place with the line, So the shepherd said, ‘let’s go see this thing that the angel spoke of. When the shepherds arrived at the place where the baby laid, they bowed down. Samson took his cues perfectly. Sometimes, I like to give the kids a chance to adlib to see if they really understand what is going on in the scene as opposed to being directs as to what to say. So, I said, “And the shepherd said…..” Without lifting his gaze from the ‘manger’ he nodded and sweetly said, “Praise God.”
Wow. That’s it isn’t it? May the wonder and awe of Christmas surprise you with a greater revelation of the wonderful gift of God this Christmas.
Drain the Swamp! Donald Trump is not the first person that tried to do that. The religious establishment during the time of Jesus Christ was a cesspool filled with leaders that were mostly concerned with holding on to power. Jesus represented a real threat to their way of life. Disguised under the banner of ‘protecting the people’ from heresy, they created a campaign based on lies and fake news to destroy him; which they certainly did not.
Jesus called these people “Hypocrites”. It is derived from the Greek word “hupokrites” which means, “An expounder or interpreter of dreams, then an actor. That is what the Greeks used to call a stage player who acted under a mask impersonating a character. A counterfeit.” Ironic how the word parallels today’s ‘celebrities’ who espouse morality and preach how we all should live, while they live lives that are completely to the contrary. It’s easy to feel the same agitation that Jesus felt against the spirits of his adversaries.
In Luke 12: 1b, Jesus says, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which IS hypocrisy.” He called out their sin for what it was. They were hypocrites when it came to telling the people how to live and then living as if the same laws didn’t apply to them. They were somehow ‘above the law’, a reference I’ve heard leveled at our president during these impeachment hearings. Again, the hypocrisy of just that statement alone is astounding.
And in every case where Jesus confronted them, their response was always the same, “the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to plot ways to kill Jesus….” (Luke 22:2…and others.) I love what Luke 13:17 says, “When he said this, his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.” (I have to admit that I do delight in how the president is winning in the battle against his/our adversaries.) Meanwhile, his enemies have been trying to destroy him since before he took the oath of office.
I can’t help but see the parallels of today’s political theatre. It is evident that the hypocrites of our Congress are trying to crucify a duly elected president because he represents a threat to their power. And there is no argument to be made when facts do not matter and deception reigns. Logic is thrown out the window and emotional tirades rue the day. President Trump is no Messiah (as his predecessor was labeled), but he clearly stands for values rooted in a Judeo-Christian worldviews. And those values, including nationalism, are vehemently opposed to whom the real villain is in this melodrama: GLOBALISM.
How long President Trump can stem the tide of these forces remains to be seen. But for now, at least, I am grateful for his leadership. I know there are many who disagree. But I see the parallels in Scripture and know the struggle is ultimately “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers and authorities of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.” (Ephesisans 6) And so, I’m reminded to keep praying.
Jesus didn’t succeed in ‘draining’ the swamp before he died. But his death made the way for the swamp to be drained. He ushered in the kingdom of God for all who believe and gave us power and authority to do the work. I am with President Trump and all he is trying to do. But he will not drain the swamp in his lifetime.
This swamp will be drained only when it is ruled by Jesus Christ. SOON.
Phil 4: 4,5, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say, “REJOICE”. Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. “
Joyful, joyful we adore thee
God of glory Lord of love
Hearts unfold like flowers before thee
Opening to the sun above
Melt our hearts of sin and sadness
Drive the dark of doubt away
Giver of immortal gladness
Fill us with the light of day.
These words were penned by Henry Van Dyke in 1907 in a poem called “Ode to Joy” and set to the tune of Beethoven’s last symphony, “Hymn of Joy”. It is as joyful a melody as you can imagine in this life and I find myself singing it regularly during this season of Advent.
In Luke 2: 6,7 it says, “While they (Mary and Joseph) were there (Bethlehem), the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger.” Who among us can deny the joy of announcing a child is born to us? If you have children, do you remember waiting to tell someone that you were having a baby or that you were expecting a grandchild? The joy is evident in the way we tell others.
I longed for a good father-son relationship growing up. When I held my first born, a son, I felt all the possibilities in the world; a healing had begun in my spirit. My very first words to my son as I held him in my arms were, “We’re going to be best friends someday.” What JOY there is in announcing a birth. As a matter of fact the angels appeared in the very next scene with this pronouncement: “Behold I bring you good tidings of GREAT JOY.” It was like the extended family telling everyone the good news. And they SANG.. JOY was everywhere. Did you know that singing is one of the most joyous expressions we know?
This type of joy is not just a reflection of the moment. It is a reflection of God. Do you know that God experiences emotion? He is a personality. He’s not emotional. But to deny God’s emotions is to deny that he possesses personality. The Bible shows us he experiences anger (Ps 7:11; Deut 9:22),; laughter (Ps 37:13, 2:4), compassion (Ps 135:14, Judges 2:18), grief (Gen 6:6, Ps 78:40), and jealousy (Ex 20:5, 34:14) and others. He also experiences JOY. (Zeph 3:17, Is 62:5, Jeremiah 32:41).
The word “Joy” in the New Testament is “Chara”, which means, “inner gladness, delight or rejoicing. It’s always used to signify happiness based on spiritual realities independent of what happens. Do you see? Joy is not happiness. Happiness is based on what happens. Joy is an abiding sense of God’s spirit REGARDLESS of what happens. The Bible speaks of the joy we possess in Phil 4:4, 1, Thess 5: 6-8, Hebrews 12:2, and Rom 14:17, among others.
All of creation is joyful. Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” One of the attirbutes in creation that reflects the attributes of the Creator is and should be JOY. Psalm 19:1,2 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God. The skies declare his handiwork. Day after day they pour forth speech. Night after night they reveal knowledge. Can you even imagine the sky on the night of Jesus’ birth. The star itself was a galactic testimony of JOY and good news.
Jesus was joyful. He portrays a picture of himself in Luke 15 as the shepherd who rejoices over one lost sheep. Bruce Marchiano, who played Jesus in a recent video series of Matthew’s Gospel, played the part using ‘joy’ as the character’s spine. He was a joyous Jesus. Hebrews 1:9 says Jesus was anointed with the oil of joy!
And the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians says that the Spirit is JOYFUL. My point? Ps 16:11 says, “IN His presence is fullness of JOY”. The FULLNESS of joy. The Trinity; FATHER, SON, and SPIRIT, are all characterized by joy. Creation is joyful. What about us? What should be an identifiable marking of every Christian? You guessed it….JOY.
In the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25), Jesus said that the Master of the house rewarded the faithful servants and said, “You have been faithful in the small things, there fore I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into your master’s happiness (JOY) prepared for you since the beginning of time.” Hebrews 12:2 even says that Jesus endured the cross for the JOY set before him. There is not doubt that heaven will be filled with JOY as we abide in the Kingdom of God and the presence of the Holy Trinity. Heaven is certainly going to be a joyful place..
During the events of that first Christmas, the Bible says that Mary pondered all these things in her heart. No doubt these expressions of joy were a great blessing. But just a few verses later, in the same chapter, Luke talks about an event that happens at the Temple. A prophet named Simeon, who has been promised to see the Messiah, warns her that a ‘sword shall pierce your soul, also.” What parent can’t relate to that? They say children step on your toes when they’re young, but as they grow, they step on your heart; Once a parent, always a parent. And you can be assured that your kids will bring you some grief. Joy and sadness go together, just like the movie “Inside Out” so wonderfully portrayed. (Even if you never seen Pixar’s Inside Out, I recommend it.) The Bible says, “Consider it all (pure) JOY when you suffer trials of many kinds…” Trust in God and His purposes for your life bring not only brings peace. It brings joy.
The christian will go through trials and tribulations and even the dark night of the soul. Seasons are biblical. Emotionally-healthy spirituality understands that you won’t always be happy. But joy is abiding. If you don’t have joy, you need to stop and reflect. Meditate. Where am I in my walk with Christ? Is this a dark night of the soul where God is refining my faith in a fire. (If you’re wanting to know more about this biblical reality, I recommend the book, “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” by Peter Scazzero.) Am I practicing the disciplines necessary to be in God’s presence. It is there that I find joy, even fullness of joy. Is there something about this season in my life that God wants to reveal that will build my character and extend his purposes in me? Remember in Psalm 51:12 that David says ‘restore to me the JOY of my salvation.” This was his cry during the dark night of his soul.
For many, Advent is not a joyous time. The loss of loved ones or tragedy or the dysfunction of life and family gatherings make it difficult. If grief has stolen your joy during this season, I encourage you to get counsel or seek help or look outward and not inward in regards to this lost sense of joy. While sadness and happiness may not coexist, joy and sadness can. Let the anointing of JOY cover you this blessed season.
Let the ADVENT-SURE begin: HOPE.
Jeremiah 33:14 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: "The LORD is our righteousness."
It’s the first Sunday of Advent and our theme is Hope. The liturgical season of Advent marks the time of spiritual preparation by the faithful before Christmas. Advent begins on the Sunday closest to the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle (November 30). It spans four Sundays and four weeks of preparation, although the last week of Advent is usually truncated because of when Christmas falls. (For instance, some years, the fourth Sunday of Advent is obviously on Sunday, and then that evening is Christmas Eve.)
The celebration of Advent has evolved in the spiritual life of the Church. The historical origins of Advent are hard to determine with great precision. In its earliest form, beginning in France, Advent was a period of preparation for the Feast of the Epiphany, a day when converts were baptized; so the Advent preparation was very similar to Lent with an emphasis on prayer and fasting which lasted three weeks and later was expanded to 40 days. In 380, the local Council of Saragossa, Spain, established a three-week fast before Epiphany. Inspired by the Lenten regulations, the local Council of Macon, France, in 581 designated that from November 11 (the Feast of St. Martin of Tours) until Christmas fasting would be required on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Eventually, similar practices spread to England. In Rome, the Advent preparation did not appear until the sixth century, and was viewed as a preparation for Christmas with less of a penitential bent.
The Church gradually formalized the celebration of Advent as a period of spiritual preparation for Christmas. The Gelasian Sacramentary, traditionally attributed to Pope St. Gelasius I (d. 496), was the first to provide Advent liturgies for five Sundays. Later, Pope St. Gregory I (d. 604) enhanced these liturgies composing prayers, antiphons, readings, and responses. Pope St. Gregory VII (d. 1095) later reduced the number of Sundays in Advent to four. Finally, about the ninth century, the Church designated the first Sunday of Advent as the beginning of the Church year.
Despite the “sketchy” history behind Advent, the importance of this season remains to focus on the coming of our Lord. (The word Advent comes from the Latin adventus, meaning “coming.”)
The theme of the first week in Advent is HOPE.
1. 1. a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.
"he looked through her belongings in the hope of coming across some information"
2. 2. a feeling of trust.
The New Testament word for hope is Elpise: (GREEK) To anticipate usually with pleasure or confidence. (from a prism) (Romans 15:13)
The word ‘hope’ in Hebrew actually means ‘to expect’ or have some sort of ‘expectation’. This means we aren’t merely hoping it to be completely. We’re 100% expecting it to be completed. There should be no doubt anywhere in our mind concerning the Lord’s promises to us. So, you can see how closely the Advent theme and the HOPE theme are to one another.
“Hope” is commonly used to mean a wish : its strength is the strength of the person's desire. But in the Bible hope is the confident expectation of what God has promised and its strength is in His faithfulness.
Remember that HOPE is eternal. It will exist forever because HOPE is God. “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1Cor 13:13
Hope looks to the future. (You don’t hope for what you already have. You have the faith to believe you have what you need.
Biblical hope is not wishy-washy. Biblical hope is neither wishful thinking nor a mere desire for something we’d like to have happen. Instead, the Bible consistently presents hope as a confident expectation, an assuredness about what is to happen in the future, and even an anticipation of that future
Today, we look at one of the more recognizable prophecies concerning the coming of a Messiah, a thing which was the central hope of all Jewish people. Scholars differ on how many Messianic prophecies there are in the OT. (56-560) The oldest messianic prophecy is Gen 3:15 or Job 19: 25-27. These prophecies of a coming Messiah were central to the hope of Israel. Remember that Abraham’ hope was in a place. (Genesis 17) Generally, The roots of Jewish eschatology are to be found in the pre-exile prophets, including Isaiah where they occur in at least five chapters. Their “HOPE” in a Messiah in included the following tenants:
· End of world (before everything as follows).
· God redeems the Jewish people from the captivity that began during the Babylonian Exile.
· God returns the Jewish people to the promised land of Israel.
· God restores the house/line of David and the temple.
· The Jewish Messiah will usher in an age of justice and peace.
· All nations recognize that the God of Israel is the one true God.
· God resurrects he dead
· God creates a new Heaven and earth.
The prophecy comes from Isaiah 40: 1-6.
Isaiah received his call to prophecy from God in Isaiah 6 around 750BC. Assyria is the formidable enemy. Ahaz, Judah’s king, seeks to form an alliance with Assyria. He literally ‘puts his hope’ in the hands of his enemy. This is the backdrop of the first 39 chapters of the book. After Ahaz dies, Hezekiah becomes king and seeks the Lord for protection from enemies. Because Hezekiah puts his home in God alone, Judah is spared from being conquered by the Assyrians. Hezekiah’s HOPE in God saved his people. He did not put his hope in chariots or men or weapons. This is a common theme in obeying God. (Psalm 20:7; Isaiah 30:2-5) David experienced a similar fate when he counted his fighting men. (2 Samuel 24)
Solomon wrote about putting your hope in anything other than God in Ecclesiastes. His quest led him to discover that life was meaningless apart from God. At the end of his days, he reminded those who followed him to ‘remember God when they are young’ and ‘fear God and keep his commandments’. These are paramount teachings in living a hopeful life.
And so, after affirming that Judah would be spared from the Assyrians, Isaiah turns the page to chapter 40 and looks to the future of Israel, in what would happen in about 50 years. They would fall away yet again and this time their sins would require restitution in the form of exile. After 70 years, they’re sins would be forgiven and they could return once again to the ‘place’ of their hope. With this in mind, he says:
Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
3 A voice of one calling:
In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord[a];
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.[b]
4 Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
These words of HOPE that Handel captured so magically in his master work, “The Messiah” start with the word, “COMFORT”; not once but twice. It was the biblical equivalent of italics or bold letter writing. A word repeated twice in scripture always represented a greater emphasis to the word.
Hope will bring comfort. True hope like this is life-changing. It is a sure hope in God. It is a strong confidence in Christ and His Words. Redemption will always be accomplished and completed according to the Word of the Lord. And we know how the story ends. Putting your hope in anything else will only disappoint you. This is the hope that allows us to face the trials and testings we must endure as recorded in Romans 5: 3-5
Are you hopeful?
How are you tying in HOPE to your advent this year?
Psalms are generally categorized by content. In the Psalms of Lament, there is always a crying out to God . But the psalm never ends without a hope. One of my favorite is Psalm 42. It ends like this:
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.
God never leaves his people without a HOPE. Hope is eternal like the soul of the believer. Hope should accompany us now as it will in heaven. Whatever you’re hoping for this advent, hope for it in light of God’s promises. All else will fail. Only God’s Word will stand.
I’m reminded of the words to the wonderful hymn, “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand”
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus' Name
On Christ the solid Rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand
When darkness seems to hide His face
I rest on His unchanging grace
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil
His oath, His covenant, His blood
Support me in the whelming flood
When all around my soul gives way
He then is all my Hope and Stay
When He shall come with trumpet sound
Oh may I then in Him be found
Dressed in His righteousness alone
Faultless to stand before the throne
Romans 13:15, “May the God of HOPE fill you with JOY and PEACE as you TRUST IN HIM, so that you may overflow with HOPE in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Let the ADVENT-sure Begin.
“Art is the reflection of God’s creativity; an evidence that we are made in the image of God.”
The details are fuzzy, but the impact was powerful. I think it was a One-Way Street Conference in Maryland in the early 1990s. It was very early in my ministry. A man named Farrell Marr was introduced by Dale Von Seggen and he proceeded to perform a puppet presentation to “Variations on a Hymn” by Glad. I was NOT prepared for what happened next. The presentation was seamless despite the challenging material. The puppetry was fantastic. Backgrounds were elaborate and well done. Costuming was clever and extensive. But the thing…..It was SOOOO creative. Have you seen the new GMC Truck commercial with the drop down tailgate where everyone’s mouth falls open? That’s it. That’s the response I had. I sought him out as soon as I could and gave him what I consider the ultimate compliment to another creative artist: “You make me want to be better”.
In 33 years of full time ministry, I have only met one other person as creative as Ferrell Marr and that was David Simpich. Throughout those years, he continued to amaze me with his creativity. When trying to think of an idiom that describes him, the phrase ‘second nature’ came to mind. But, I don’t think that does his Spirit justice. Creativity really was ‘first nature’ to him. He always looked at life with a cosmic perspective. It was as if, he saw all the possibilities. Perhaps, in the end, he just exploded because a human body can’t contain that type of energy.. It reminds me of God in the Holy of Holies or Aladdin in the bottle. This world was small; too small.
If art IS a reflection of God’s creativity, Ferrell Marr gave us a wonderful glimpse of heaven on earth. Rest briefly, my friend, until we join you and are finally all released into the greater purpose that God has for us….which is NOT here. Let he who began the good work in you be faithful to complete it in heaven where we will once again enjoy and admire your gifts.
“Tell me the story about the day I was born.”
My mom says, “Again? I tell you this story every year.” Well, of course. Birthdays should be celebrated. Life is a gift and I love to hear her tell the story to me. That’s a gift too.
This year, I will call again on the start of my 62nd year of life. But, this year, I would like to do something different.
I want to say ‘thank you’ to my Mom AND Dad for choosing to give me life. They were young and unmarried. It would have been convenient in today’s culture to terminate the pregnancy. No Jeff; no Ben; no Samuel; no Koen. Debbie and Alyssa would have married other men. I would have continued to live in another place; but not here. Pregnancy is temporary. Death is permanent.
I would have never had the opportunity to exercise my choices: Marrying Debbie; Being in Ministry; Rooting for the Steelers; Serving in the Army….
My voice would have never been heard. I would have been silenced before I had the chance to make my first sound, utter my first words, or sing my first song. I would have never had the chance to laugh or cry…well, not that anyone would hear.
And my Mom would have never made the decision without my Dad. They decided to get married. It was a different time. I was brought home from the hospital to a little rented farm house. I got to live. I’m very thankful. Thank you Mom and Dad for not making my right to live an issue of your right to choose. I know it didn’t make your life easier. But, I hope it made it richer.
So, ‘tell me the story’ again. It’s a story that some innocent children never get to hear. Tell me about the day I was born……
36 down and 12 to go. It’s been a year ago since I started God Rods Across America. The idea was to perform “Arise My Love” on the capitol steps of every state in the continental US and pray for the state representatives to Congress from that state and our President and Vice President. The idea came to me while I was praying for a way to show my appreciation to God for his GOODNESS in 30 years of full time ministry. I had hoped to finish the tour in a year, but now it looks like I’ll be going into the Fall of this year. C’est La Vie.
On my latest tour, I decided to jot down what I’ve learned so far because the journey really is so much more than the destination. Consider this my current State (Capitols) of Mind.
In his book, “Counter Culture”, David Platt writes:
The worldwide practice of abortion is why I do not believe it is anywhere close to an overstatement to call abortion a modern holocaust. My intention in saying this is in no way to downplay the horror of the holocaust in the mass murder of six million Jewish men, women, and children over a few short years. But were talking here about the massacre of forty-two million (+++)unborn children every single year. And just as German Christians should not have ignored the reality of what was happening in concentration camps across their country, I should not have ignored – and America Christians must not ignore –the reality of what is happening in abortion clinics across our country and around the world. As multitudes of babies are dismembered and destroyed daily, this is clearly an issue where the gospel REQUIRES us to counter culture.
The movie, “Unplanned” is the story of Abby Johnson, one of the youngest Planned Parenthood clinic directors in the nation who was involved in upwards of 22,000 abortions and counseled countless women on the reproductive choices. Here passion surrounding a woman’s right to choose led her to become a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood, fighting to enact legislation for the cause she so deeply believe in. Then, one day, she is drawn in to a surgical procedure where she actually witnesses the abortion through a sonogram, which radically changes her stance on abortion and role of Planned Parenthood in women’s health care.
This movie has been generally panned by critics as being more propaganda than movie material. I would agree that the message is obvious and deliberate. It is certainly not for the weak of stomach. The controversial “R” rating was political, but it may also have earned its exclusive rating in the graphic images of the abortion process. And, it’s not a great movie, either. It would have felt more like a Hallmark movie on the big screen had not been for such weighty material. The acting (outside of a decent portrayal by Ashley Bratcher as Abby Johnson) was stiff and the caricatures of Planned Parenthood employees were wooden. This was especially true of the acting clinic director, Cheryl, who was literally the devil who wore Prada.
The time is long past due for Christians to take a hard stand on this issue. Since 1973, when Roe v. Wade became law, science has empirically shown that life begins at conception. This is certainly an inconvenient truth for liberals. But it makes abortion the murder of the unborn. No one has any right to murder another human being. It’s not a choice that we offer people because it’s not moral As Platt mentions in the quote above, it is a holocaust. I have to admit that the scene in the movie where the fetus is sucked out of the womb (as shown on the ultrasound) was gut wrenching and very difficult to watch. A subsequent scene with the dismembered fetus is put back together after the abortion to account for all of its parts is equally difficult. That this happens to the extent that it does in the name of convenience or women’s health defies logic. There are no words. It is PURE EVIL.
Christians need to see this movie if for no other reason than to support those who make these kind of movies. It’s just that simple. Regardless of how you view it, movies need to make money or they won’t be made. And they are expensive to make as everyone knows. So, we do our part by going to see the movie and supporting the men and women who bring these stories to the big screen. Movies are the culture’s way of telling story and these are stories that need to be told. Making a movie about it gives it a sort of validity in culture as a relevant issue. So, I encourage you to Plan to see Unplanned.
Note: By the way, the real heroes of this story are the participants in Coalition for Life (now 40 days for Life) who stood on that wall regularly and faithfully prayed for the lives of the unborn. It is a wonderful reminder how prayer works!
Would you agree that the most powerful communication tool we have is story?
Would you agree that Jesus communicated spiritual truth to us in story more than any other format?
Would you agree that any curriculum for Christ-likeness for children must begin with a strong foundation in the Biblical Narrative? In other words, is the God Story, presented in chronological order, fundamental to spiritual formation in children?
If so, you may be interested in what I have to say.
Lectio Divina is a classical Benedictine practice attributed to Brother Lawrence, a Benedictine monk from the 17th Century. It is a method for studying the Bible used to promote communion with God and to increase the knowledge of God’s Word. Far from mystical, it is a practical and time proven method of study and learning that consists of four simple steps:
Over the last ten years, I have worked with teachers and mentors who use this model of Bible study and I have ‘come along side’ to practice it as a spiritual discipline in my own life.
Recently, I realized that even before I knew this method existed, I was using it in my design for children’s ministry curriculum at the church where I served as children’s pastor.
My curriculum was designed as a story-centric model that taught Bible stories in chronological order with the intention of reinforcing the God Narrative from beginning to end each calendar year. At each successive grade level, the story thread went deeper into the story, but they were always taught in chronological order from year to year. So each grade level was on the same story each week; just at a deeper level or different part of the same story.
Both models are inductive in their approach to Bible engagement. They are Spirit led rather than a subjective design element that manufactures what the Bible story or scripture text is saying. In other words, it asks the question: “What is the Holy Spirit saying to you in this story?” Remember that when we open the Word of God, we open the mouth of God and it is “living and active”. (Hebrews 4:12)
The paradigm shift for you and your volunteers is a tricky one. It requires you to stop teaching and start guiding. My story-centric model for children’s ministry curriculum asks volunteers to be storytellers instead of teachers. While there is much to be made of this, suffice it to say for now that Jesus communicated through stories as his PRIMARY model for teaching. Still, it is a transition for your volunteers to make.
None-the-less, I would like to pursue the model with you as a way to introduce a concept and not a product. Unfortunately, there is no publisher that I know that has a curriculum like this. (That however, does not make it wrong.) Still, once you have the idea, you can easily duplicate it in a curriculum model, even if you don’t add the chronological Bible story element with it.
a.When working with children, it is important to read (outloud) from the Bible the first time. It helps to read well and to read from a version that best relates to children.
b.The story is then retold as a paraphrase. Always resist the urge to teach. Your goal here is to “Tell the Story in a Way that it can be Retold.” So how do you do that? My favorite idea here is a “Cue and Respond” model. The notion is a prompt, which helps remind the listener of that part of the story. As you retell the story, you introduce the prompt, cue, or token. Then you gather the cues together and present them again in order. But this time, the audience tells YOU the story. Take the following fabric prints for example:
i.Loaves of bread
iii.Sheaves of wheat
iv.Flannel pattern (soft)
Do you recognize the story? It’s Ruth and Naomi. For the sake of brevity, I won’t explain it. But these are all fabric panels I found in the store and used to tell the story from Ruth. Once I told the story using the ‘cues’, I gathered them together and reset them out one at a time while the kids recounted the story to me. Powerful! Cue and Response is just one simple way to paraphrase a story.
a.This is an active reflection. Here, I want children to experience the story. The simplest way to do this is……Act it out!.
b.I believe that Bible is play anthology, which means it was meant to be shown, not just told. After hearing a story read and then paraphrased through Cue and Response, it isn’t hard to act it out. Assign parts and let it go. If you want to script it in advance, you can but that isn’t necessary. If there aren’t enough speaking parts, assign kids to play props and set pieces. Let them play the part of a tree or a pig. Lead the story as a “narrator” if necessary. You may have to give them a line or two. Have some fun costume pieces to add. Does this sound like more than your pay grade? You’re not giving yourself enough credit!
a.Here comes the leap of faith. (Trust me. It’s good for you.) Ask the question, “What did you learn from our story today?” “What does this story mean to you?” This is the part where you and Carrie Underwood sing, “Jesus, take the wheel!” It is this question that makes the model inductive rather than the deductive model you buy from a publisher. As in the Lectio model, the question is “What does this text mean to you?” “What is the Holy Spirit saying to YOU?”
b.You have plenty of other places in your programming to talk about the fruit of the spirit or the armor of God, etc. But a graded curriculum is the perfect place to fit in a model that teaches children the biblical narrative in chronological order and how to engage the Word of God through an age-old Bible study method.
c.Lead the conversation with questions and observations. Don’t teach. Allow the Holy Spirit to lead. As Dr. Seuss would say, ‘Oh, the places you’ll go!”
a.In the classical model, this step is more an application to your everyday life. What are you going to do with the Word of God in your life this week? How are you going to respond to the story? Faith without obedience isn’t faith at all. So, here’s what I suggest:
i.Make some suggestions on how to apply the Word for that week.
ii.Connect the story to Jesus. He is the WORD made flesh and we know that Scripture always points to Jesus. Teaching kids this valuable truth on a weekly basis will help them to properly engage God’s Word forever.
iii.End with a prayer of THANKSGIVING to God for speaking through His WORD.
iv.If you need more time, it never hurts to have a couple of activity sheets available.
Did you survive? As I mentioned in my opening, I’m not here to sell a product, just a concept. So, my suggestion is that you try the model without the chronological storytelling element. (At least until I finish my curriculum for publication!) See how it works. Like Lectio, it’s not rocket science and I believe that you’ll find it helpful and stimulating. Got questions? Need some more help? Contact me at email@example.com.
Sometimes, the Spirit gnaws; like a persistent, pestering gnat or fly.
I had a thought over the recent holidays that made me think about the Spirit of the Age. Now, before I go on, you should know that I support President Trump. But, my observations are not meant to be political. They are just observations.
I wrote a dramatic piece several years ago about Simeon, spoken about in Luke 2: 25-35. He was a devout Jew who was patiently waiting to see the Messiah. The account of his encounter with the baby Jesus in the temple is a glorious record of God’s faithfulness to this man. Verses 34 and 35 read, “Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Certainly this prophetic word would affirm what Mary and Joseph already knew. I wonder if it made them smile; or at least up until the last sentence, right? Jesus would grow up in obscurity to become the center of every day life; not just for Jews but for everyone. His influence certainly included the realm of politics and governments. While the Jewish religious leaders put a political spin on their venom against Jesus, they were clearly more concerned about how he was affecting their base of power even though they would disguise it as protecting the people from false teaching. It was a swamp and Jesus was an outsider. His rise to prominence through the signs and wonders that followed his ministry clearly pointed to his divine authority. Yet, the ‘fake news’ against him dogged the good news of his message.
Jesus wasn’t divisive. Even in Matthew 10: 34-36, I don’t believe Jesus is saying that HE is dividing families. That would go against everything we know about the Bible AND Jesus. But, everyone must do something with Jesus. “He is a sign that is spoken against so that the hearts of many are revealed.” There are certainly times where those disagreements over Jesus turn sharp and divide families. So, Jesus is not dividing people. But people are divided over Jesus. He just reveals the division that already existed.
President Trump’s policies are:
-Pro America (nationalism vs globalism)
He is a D.C. outsider who has brought common sense back into the SWAMP and he is getting CRUCIFIED. Please don’t get me wrong. He’s no Jesus! He’s no Messiah. And yet, I believe we are seeing a shadow of the Spirit of the Age we are living in. People who infer that he is dividing this country are misinformed. He is revealing the deep division that already exists. It is being moved along by the Spirit is Lawlessness and it will be the preeminent characteristic of the Antichrist as shared in 2 Thess 2: 1-12.
We are moving towards globalism. There is no way to prevent it because the Bible clearly indicates a one-world order in the last days. This will be the final throne of the Anti-Christ before Jesus’ returns. President Trump is standing (mostly) alone trying to stem the tide of the inevitable tsunami that is going to wipe out the world. I admire his courage and I support him. But I’m afraid we’re fighting a losing battle apart from a soul-awakening revival, which we should all continue to pray for along with the salvation of Israel.
As a Christian, we are commanded to pray for our leaders, whether we like them or not. (Romans 13:1; 1 Tim 2: 1,2) I encourage you to pray Psalm 140 over our President and Vice President. And remember that our struggle is NOT against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, authorities, and principalities in high places." Ephesians 6:12.