“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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Sometimes, when you hear an idea, you have to write it down before you forget it. I’ve often thought of journals and blogs as small jail cells that holds your prisoner safe until they are ready for release.
Tonight I joined with some old, young friends who I worked with in another life when I was young. Our connection was mysterious and spiritual. They were teenagers then and I was very young in the ministry. But 25 years later, here we were gathered around a table marveling at the fact that I was ministering to their children at a kid’s crusade. Sometimes, it’s worth getting older just to have these serendipitous encounters like this.
But, I digress….
One of the girls is a prosecutor for a local district attorney’s office. She was lamenting her role a prosecutor because of the inherent nature of the job to convict people. She talked about how she much more preferred the role of defense attorney because it’s more towards her tendancy to show grace and mercy. She recounted a story where she was feeling especially ‘guilty’ about sending a college student to jail for a convicted crime. In the parking lot, she bumped into another old(er) friend of ours, Dave Dunn, the pastor of the same church where all these kids grew up together. In that moment he spoke the most profound truth to her.
He recounted the story of Jonah. Do you remember what happened when the sailors pulled lots to see who among them was causing the storm? They tried to throw everything overboard EXCEPT Jonah. They didn’t want to have to send him to a watery grave. Even after Jonah insisted they throw him overboard, they hesitated. But, in fact, they were keeping Jonah from his own redemption; not to mention that of the people of Ninevah too. What they thought was mercy was actually injustice. The parallel is that in doing her job, this young lawyer may have had a part in God’s purpose for this young college student that might change his life forever. Sometimes your break down is your break through.
Such wisdom. I think this is a truism in many ways, but none more so than how we try and protect our children from failure. How often do we step in and thwart the will of God for our loved ones when we ‘bail them out’? I’ve always said the hardest part of parenting is letting your children fail. The lessons must be learned and sometimes they must be learned the hard way.
Isaiah 55: 8,9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts
Tempted to step in and save the day? Step back, take a breath and let God be the hero.
June 7, 2018 on the steps of the capital building in Charleston, WV. This was Paula's story. She showed up without really expecting to be part of the performance ministry. I'm not sure how we talked to her 'into' doing it, but she did. I loved her comment: "This is out of my comfort zone." EXACTLY. That's the definition of faith, isn't it? God is continually trying to pull us out of comfort zone...which is our routine. The very nature of practicing spiritual disciplines is the idea of shaking up our routine so we 'unlearn' how to live in the kingdoms of this world and live in the Kingdom above...HERE. So, good for you Paula. You stepped out in faith today and we're all reminded what it is to live in the Kingdom of God. My thanks also to Elkview Baptist Church for showing up so I didn't have to go alone. You're my PEEPS!!!!
Stop #2: Frankfort, KY, June 5, 2018. An absolutely GLORIOUS day: Blue skies; no humidity; 75 degrees. My purpose is single-minded: I want to bless God for his faithfulness over 30 years of ministry. As the kids and adults gathered from 4-5 churches across KY, I had the opportunity to share my faith story and invite them to join me in a performance of "Arise My Love" to an audience of ONE. Of course, people on their way stop and watch as we perform. How could they not? "What are these people doing with sticks?" I hope they enjoy it. They seem to. But, it is not for them. Under a perfect sky on a perfect day with about 20 youth and adults and 20 more chaperones and parents, we did "Arise My Love" on the steps of the KY capital building in Frankfort, KY. Then, we gathered together to pray for the elected officials from KY that serve in the Federal government and our leaders in Washington. It's not political. We just ask that God would give them wisdom in governing. All in all, a perfect day. "IN God whose Word I praise. In God I trust and am not afraid." Thanks to all my 'stickers' who showed up. By the way, this is an excellent ministry opportunity for your teams. I would encourage you to add a heritage tour through the capital grounds. Next up: Charleston, WV.
May 31, 1988. I resigned my commission in the U.S. Army and started following the "Wild Goose" in full time ministry. It has been a wild ride. But as I've preached, "You'll never know the faithfulness of God until you walk in faith." Only faith moves God and somehow, the lack of faith in our lives, limits or even binds the LIVING GOD from moving in our life. My story has been one of God's continual faithfulness. Being in this type of ministry, I've had to trust God for 30 years. Why would I suppose that God, who has shown himself faithful again and again, would for any reason, abandon us now? This was the life of every man and woman in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11. But they were no different than us in so many ways. Even the great John the Baptist had doubts. But, in the end, GOD IS FAITHFUL and our testimony is one of HIS great faithfulness.
In celebration of this journey, I am traveling to every state capital (except Alaska and Hawaii unless someone provides the way!) to perform our signature piece, "Arise My Love" with the God Rods and pray for the state and national leaders of our day. On the 30th anniversary of Salt and Light, we began the tour in Richmond, VA, the place where it all began. Six of us performed including my son, Samuel. Hank and Peggy Graser, Melissa Oliver, and CHAOS from Lawrenceville UMC in Lawrenceville, VA joined in. As we performed, I offered God my thanks for his UNFAILING love, his UNWAIVERING favor, and his UNMERITED grace.
Do you TRUST God? Would you continue to TRUST Him if the stock market crashed? Would you continue to TRUST Him if you lost someone very dear to you in tragedy? If your only HOPE was in HIM, would it be enough? You probably can't answer those questions without having an experience that requires you to do so, for which I pray you don't have to. And yet, I would pray that you would come to know that you can. For to KNOW God is to TRUST Him. Proverbs 3: 5,6, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge HIM and HE will direct your paths."