Jesus’ BFFs

The following is an excerpt from “The Other Three Sixteens”, coming soon!

“These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter)…”

Mark 3:16

The book of Mark is where the action is. We jump right into the story of Jesus and race breathlessly through a non-stop narrative. You’ve got to hold on tight, because it’s a wild ride.

As Mark’s story unfolds, we see Jesus teaching and preaching, healing the sick and casting out demons. His authority and power were clear and word began to spread about his incredible impact. The crowds grew larger and larger. As his ministry increased, Jesus invited twelve men to be his close friends. He appointed them to travel with him, learn from him, and he wanted to send them out to preach, heal, and cast out demons as well. Mark 3:16 begins the list of the twelve disciples: Simon, James, John, Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, another James, Thaddaeus, and another guy named Simon.

Over the next couple of years, these men would have their lives changed beyond their wildest imaginations.

There were multitudes clamoring for Jesus’ attention. However, in the noise and excitement, he quietly gathered friends. This band of brothers would not only learn from him, but they would be a support system during the ups and downs of ministry life. These were the people who would travel with Jesus, share meals, and talk about the great mysteries of God with him. They were also the dudes who would share jokes, witness tragedies and victories, and even try his patience from time to time. The relationship between Jesus and the disciples was like no other. They walked side by side with the Son of God and were empowered by the Lord to do great things, too.

We also have the gift of friendship with Christ.

In John 15:13-15, Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” The disciples weren’t the only friends of God. We are also invited into an intimate friendship with the Lord.

To be a friend is to love.

Friends know each other’s favorite things and histories. They understand good moods and bad while being sensitive to what delights or upsets one another. Friends go out of their way to help and support. They talk as well as listen, often developing a shorthand communication. Little things are shared for the sole purpose of inspiring a smile. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). Friends are there through happy occasions and sad seasons, and they don’t bail out during difficulty. Advice from a caring friend is worth more than gold. There is something sacred about simply being together. Friends enjoy a casual, comforting familiarity that doesn’t exist among acquaintances. Friendship is special. Our friendship with God fits all these descriptions and more. To have such a close relationship to the Creator of the universe is remarkable! But this is what God desires for us. He loves us so deeply that he longs to be close to us. He gave everything to make that possible.

Yes, Jesus ministered to large crowds. But when he healed lepers, he touched them individually. A paralyzed man was lowered into a room wall-to-wall full of people, but Jesus forgave his sins personally. Away from the crowds, Jesus connected with his disciples. And, in this world full of billions of people, he loves you personally and individually. He calls you by name. He calls you his friend.

You, child of God, are dearly loved.

High Voltage Connection

My phone is in the other room. I realized this as I sat down and opened a brand new Word doc, ready to share some thoughts with my readers. Now, I’m distracted. Do I get up and retrieve it? Leave it and try not to think about any missed notifications until I complete this post?

I can give you multiple reasons why it’s important to have my phone near me. Work from home means I’m responsible to remain accessible for any work-related needs during the day. Juggling freelance work on the side utilizes my phone as a point of contact for clients. Besides, what if there is an emergency? Like many people today, I don’t have a landline. Being aware my phone’s location saves time in the event of a disaster. Ultimately, I show my family that I care by responding to their texts and calls as promptly as possible. See? I need to stay connected. It’s the right thing to do.

You just braced yourself for a lecture on smartphone addiction, didn’t you? This must all segue into how ridiculous our tech obsessions are and the need to be plugged into “the real world.” But, no, that’s not what’s happening here.

While my phone use may border on unhealthy (I’m working on that), the desire to connect to the world around us is often what explains our tech frequency. It’s not a device that we love; it’s the people on the other side of the screen. Social media is popular because it keeps us in contact with those dear to us. Text, calls, and emails are simply the media that joins one person to another. It’s all about the connection. Because we care, we devote our time to staying connected. We adapt technology to serve this purpose. We keep our phones handy day and night. We value wi-fi signals and data plans. If there is a glitch or break, we fix it immediately. We must maintain our connections.

How’s the connection with God?

We can’t connect to the Lord through Instagram or FaceTime. That’s actually good news. It’s even easier to talk to Him and doesn’t involve technology of any kind. And since the Lord never sleeps and is on every time zone simultaneously, there’s never a bad time to reach out. You’ll never get forwarded to voicemail or placed on hold. We aren’t charged by the minute or limited by data. God is the most accessible contact on our list, and the most eager to hear from us.

So what’s holding us back?
Why isn’t our Bible as handy as our phone? Do we compose an entry in our prayer journal as readily as we draft an email? The difference is in our intentions. Our tech habits didn’t come naturally. We created them. Overtime, we developed the need to tend to notifications as quickly as possible, to pick up our phones the minute we found ourselves with downtime, and give prompt attention to the people in our lives. Can we be bold enough to have the same intentional communication with our Heavenly Father?
It will start with effort. It might look like reading a scripture before checking the newsfeed first thing in the morning. It could be in the form of setting alarms for prayer during the day. It might be utilizing apps to memorize scripture, keep prayer requests organized, or connect with a Bible study group. We all have different lifestyles, and that includes how we relate to our Creator. Do we need regular time in nature? Should we schedule a lunch date with God, complete with our meal and reading Scripture? Worshiping weekly with our church community is an important appointment to keep. Choosing praise music in the background instead of arbitrarily selecting a tv channel for room noise can make a big difference in our day. However we choose to connect with the Lord, it needs to be consistent and develop into a habit that is as natural as clicking “like” on a Facebook post.

I confess, before I finished writing this, I did check my phone…. and walked the dogs…. and responded to a social media post. What I write here is an extension of my own life struggles, not a sermon about how others should live or a pedestal for my victories. We’re in this together, encouraging each other and “spurring on one another to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24). So let’s do it. Start spurring. What is one intentional way we will connect with God, starting right… now?

Broken Brain, Healing Heart

I wrote in my journal, “… there are these parts of me, light and dark, love and coldness, hope and despair. It can’t co-exist and eventually crashes all together.”

Is this what scripture means about flesh and spirit? Do other people feel this way? Is this part of my mental disorder? Or is disorder a convenient excuse not to examine these things closely?

I find myself living in extremes. With bipolar disorder, it’s rare to be somewhere calmly in between dark depression and the speeding bullet of mania……

Read the full post at Now She Rises.

Come to the Altar- With Craft Supplies

Holidays are exciting. Holidays are special. Holidays are also repetitive.

Though the sacredness of Christmas and Easter never get old, the fact is that the stories remain the same, year after year. Soon, it becomes a challenge to tell them in new, fresh ways. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit ultimately keeps the wonder alive. At the same time, we need our God given creativity when it comes to holiday lesson plans and programs.

Our traditional Easter family worship includes a time in the service where the kids present a program. Acting out the Easter story is the first way to go, but this group of kids has made it clear that they don’t like performing. The next approach is more straightforward (and I’m pretty sure they view it as the more mature option). The Easter scriptures are divided so that everyone gets a reading part, and we break it up by singing a few songs together. Simple, fairly reasonable prep, and…… predictable. For a couple of years, I convinced them to make a video so that they were, in fact, performing, just not live. This resulted in lively re-tellings of the crucifixion and resurrection, including one done as a news broadcast.

Then they caught on to my sneaky way of getting a performance, and they shut it down. I still have the footage, though. They are sincere and adorable.

The truth is that the kids are right. Worship is not a recital. It’s not a show for the congregation, but praise and adoration to the King of Kings. The children’s time in the service is a chance for them to lead, not entertain. And so we ask God for inspiration.

Behold, the collaborative Easter cross. It’s an art piece that tells a story.

The kids worked in groups to create pieces of the cross. Each piece depicts part of the story, coming together to create one symbol of grace. When it was time to present the work to our church family, the groups told their section of the story in a mix of scripture and their own words.

What made this project special was that we passed out paper and crayons to all of the youth and adults. They were instructed to draw something that reminded them of the Easter story. Once they did so, we added their work around the large cross, creating one united piece that celebrate the risen Lord.

After the service, everyone crowded around the board to see their own work as part of the community project. It was clear that this was not a measure of artistic ability, but heartfelt expression of what was most meaningful to each individual- and uniting to glorify God.

To make your own collaborative art project:

1. Choose a holiday or story to celebrate.

2. Choose a symbol that reflects your story, and draw a large outline on poster board- or multiple pieces of poster board lying side by side.

3. Cut the large symbol into as many pieces as you have kids or groups of kids. Make sure to label the backside for easy reassembly when it’s time to complete the piece.

4. Give kids their pieces and lots of art supplies. Cover the entire piece with color, if possible, for optimum final results.

5. Once the pieces are complete, place them back together on a bulletin board or large piece of cardboard.

6. Provide paper and art supplies to any other church members who would like to contribute to the project, and place their work alongside the kids.

Be creative! If each member of your church family is giving a square piece of paper or cardstock, you can create a quilt or mosaic. Consider decorating puzzle pieces, or even just drawing a simple large picture on a bulletin board and allowing everyone to color a part. Can you use cloth to make a weaving or other materials to make a communal sculpture? The possibilities are only limited to your imagination.

Collaborative art unifies all generations while inviting expression to God in a creative form of worship. Kids- and adults- who find merely reading and singing to be constrictive will likely welcome the opportunity to praise God this way!

Run, Joseph, Run!

The story of Joseph is an exciting tale with twists, turns, and great character development. Start with Genesis 37 and keep reading until the end of the book, even if this is a well-known story. It’s good to remember the details! When we’re teaching children, we often need to simplify scripture for understanding and age-appropriateness. However, when combined with over-familiarity, this can begin to erase parts of the story from our minds, robbing us of the rich blessing that comes from the completeness of God’s holy Word. While we are earnestly devoting ourselves to teaching kids, we can’t neglect our own spiritual health!

Diving into Joseph’s story finds us swimming in various themes. We have a lot to learn from Jacob’s favorite son. One common take-away is that, through all the ups and downs of Joseph’s journey, God remained in control. The Lord guided each step Joseph took, leading him to a place where he could be the Lord’s instrument to deliver people from famine, as well as to the reconciliation of Joseph’s own family. Each trial and victory took Joseph to the next phase of his life, maturing him and blessing people around him. We see God’s direction in other lives in scripture. Jonah was taken toward Nineveh by way of storm and big fish. Ruth followed Naomi and ended up in Boaz’s field. Paul’s travels spread the news of Jesus exactly the way God intended. Our lives are similarly guided by the Lord. Proverbs 16:9 reminds us that “in their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”

As he established Joseph’s steps, he establishes ours. There is great comfort and encouragement there! As adults, we cling to this truth, and it’s important that we know it from a young age. It’s never too soon to understand that God is in charge, leading us down the path he designed for us before we were born. So, after hearing the story of Joseph, our church kids reviewed a memory verse that has become familiar through song:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your path straight.” – Proverbs 3:5-6

(Sing along here!)

Of course, the concept of God directing an entire life is a lot for young minds to comprehend. Let’s break it down into something easier to understand and have some fun!

We created marble runs out of cardboard tubes from toilet paper and paper towels. Just like we made a path and directed our marbles, God makes our path and directs us in our lives. Here’s how we did it.

1. Collect a BUNCH of cardboard tubes. We put a box in the church bathrooms with a note asking for empty toilet paper tubes for children’s ministry. Soon, church members were bringing tubes from home and we had plenty of supplies for our project!

2. Grab some foam core boards (poster board size- we have them at our local Dollar Tree!) and rolls of masking tape. This project works well in small groups of 3-4 kids, so make sure you have a foam board and roll of tape for each group.

3. Cut the tubes in half length-wise to make u-shaped channels for the marble to travel. Some tubes can be left whole as tunnels, but it helps to see your marble make its way down the run!

4. Decide how you’d like your marble run to go, keeping in mind that it must always take a downward path thanks to the rules of gravity. One simple way is to make a zig-zag of downward sloping tubes from top to bottom. There’s a lot of room for creativity, and some of our kids moved the course out three-dimensionally from the board, while others attempted stair-steps, funnels, and spirals to move their marble!

5. Use the masking tape to attach the tubes to the foam board and create your path. Occasionally test your progress to troubleshoot problem areas as you go.

6. When you’ve completed your architectural wonder, release your marble and watch it take the path you made!

Not only is this a fun illustration of a Biblical truth, it’s a great STEM project that encourages cooperation and teamwork. Together, we’re thinking creatively and making stories and principles memorable for all ages.

Alive and Active Togetherness

Many thanks to We Are KidMin for including a guest post about family Bible study!

There’s nothing like God’s Word.

What other sacred text can be described as alive and active (as in Hebrews 4:12)? How incredible is it that ancient words are relevant in our modern age? And what a gift that a book with such depth is also simple enough for kids!

FAITH IN GOD IS MEANT TO BE A FAMILY AFFAIR.

The Israelites in Deuteronomy were instructed to diligently teach their children the ways of the Lord, and that stands true today. Jesus blessed children and taught that faith like a child was necessary to enter the kingdom of heaven. So we encourage and equip one another to grow together in faith as a family.

But, then thing is, kids and adults learn differently. What exactly does it mean to have childlike faith?

Read the rest of the article here, and check out the great resources at We Are KidMin!

Galatians

There is a crazy woman on my block. Every morning, she walks two dogs. As they slowly make their way down the sidewalk, she speaks to no one. Every now and then, it’s possible to catch words like “circumcision” and “God’s curse” or the more hopeful “grace” and “promise”. Day after day, this routine persists. Same woman, same dogs, same words recited.

That crazy woman is me.

At the beginning of the year, author and teacher Beth Moore invited anyone interested to memorize the book of Galatians. That’s right- the entire book. My initial response was to say, “that’s nice” and continue to scroll through social media. But the idea wouldn’t leave my mind in that nagging way God often uses to prompt us to action. It was January and I needed a new year’s resolution, so why not?

I could think of a few reasons why not, including that it seemed an impossible task. I can barely memorize a single verse, let alone an entire book! And word-for-word? Are you kidding me? I’m a master paraphraser. I’m great with learning concepts and generally what scripture says, but I can never seem to say the words perfectly (the same goes for famous quotes or movie lines. It’s horribly embarrassing.). Then someone pointed out that this was not something that could be accomplished by will or talent alone, nor was there any reason to approach it by our own strength. This wasn’t something to do FOR God, but WITH God. And hey, if the Holy Spirit is going to help me do this, then maybe there’s some hope after all.

So, armed with my trusty smartphone app (a scripture memory tool called “Remember Me”, if you’re interested), I stepped into January with a goal: learn the first fifteen verses in Galatians by the end of the month. Strangely, I was terrified.

Yet, I learned it- every word, and even ahead of schedule. So I added the rest of chapter one. And a few weeks later, began chapter two. As the year crept forward, I practiced. Word by word, verse by verse, I spoke Galatians every morning while walking two little dogs through my neighborhood. Today was a landmark day as I successfully recited Paul’s words all the way through to the end of chapter four. Hallelujah!

Besides discovering a Spirit-assisted ability I never thought possible, there were more treasures to behold. It feels like the divinely-inspired words of scripture are etching a groove into my brain…. a peaceful, life-breathing groove in the midst of anxious thoughts and day-to-day distractions. One night, I jolted awake from a nightmare. I began to speak Galatians until I was calm enough to sleep. Instead of replaying the disturbing dream in my head, I was remembering truths of grace and freedom from legalism. The familiar words were comforting.

I began to think about the difference between law and promise, something that I previously gave little attention. There is security in knowing that our salvation does not depend on our performance. When Paul reviews his past, we are reminded that our pasts are not barriers to grace. My Bible has become a rainbow of highlights as the verses come alive. What does it mean to be crucified with Christ? What do I have in common with the people of Galatia who are returning to old habits? Do we see the power behind God’s promise? Do we understand what it means to be “children of Abraham” and heirs to the promise God spoke centuries ago? The more attention that I give to this letter from Paul, the more I realize that there are treasures of truth to be unearthed from the pages.

So every morning, I speak God’s word as I walk through my neighborhood. I pray that somehow I am a light to each of my neighbors, from the family in the corner house with the fountain in the yard to the homeless guy smoking weed in the parking lot across the street. God’s word is alive and active and will not return void (Hebrews 4:12 and Isaiah 55:11). Maybe my Galatians practice will be used as a blessing from God?

And, it should be noted, that as soon as the words “Paul, an apostle, sent not from men….” are spoken, two little dogs run to the door, ready for their leashes.