Running Right Past Glory

With a deep breath, I put one foot in front of the other and began to run.

Ok, so it was a moderate jog (but with lots of effort).

The music in my earbuds set the pace, and I was determined to achieve a mile in a reasonable amount of time. I made sure to keep my eyes focused up and out, not on the sidewalk below. Soon, my heart was beating and my lungs were thirsty for more oxygen. “Can’t stop, won’t stop,” I told myself.

Step by step, minute by minute, song after song on my playlist….. until the little Map My Run voice said I reached a mile in twelve minutes and two seconds! I celebrated by allowing myself to walk and catch my breath as I turned around and headed the mile back. With a mix of walking and jogging, I soon found myself where I began, ready for a drink of water and some breakfast.

Did I mention this was the view?

fermin.jpg

Despite thirty minutes running along ocean cliffs, I barely glanced at the waves below. Dolphins could’ve been dancing through the glittering water, whales might have exhaled mist, and pelicans surely glided over the surface in expert formation….. and I was oblivious. I do vaguely recall the sweet smell of some sort of flower as I ventured face-first into a cloud of gnats. There was also some sort of bird calling near a bush on my return mile. I ran past a lighthouse and didn’t even look up into its weathered windows standing silent vigil over the channel as faithfully as if it were still in service.

I was surrounded by beauty and I missed it.

The tragedy is this is how most of us live daily, constantly absent from God’s glory around us.

When Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is at hand,” I think He meant it in more than one way. Clearly, God’s plan for the forgiveness of sins through Christ’s death and resurrection were about to happen. But perhaps God’s kingdom is more complex that mere salvation. Could it be that the kingdom of God includes His creation and His will? His kingdom in a new heaven and earth is to come, sure, but it’s also here and now, at hand. (Book recommendation for more on this: The Divine Conspiracy, by Dallas Willard. It’s a bit dense, but very much worth your time.)

We are surrounded by the glory of God.

Just as I blindly ran through stunning creation with my eyes all but closed, we spend our days so focused on tasks and worries that it creates tunnel vision, blocking out the wonders and beauty. It’s in the sky and the wildflowers on the side of the freeway. It spills over from the love of a dog happy to see you when you walk in the door. The notes and rhythms of music coming from the radio are a gift. And every single person that crosses our path is a walking masterpiece, intricately and lovingly handmade by our Heavenly Father. Like moving a prism in light to reveal more rainbows, if we could see our neighbor through God’s eyes, every new angle would reveal another treasure. However, we run right past it all, focused on how hard our muscles are working and seeing only the mile marker ahead.

There is extreme danger in running through life with tunnel vision. It’s more than missing the surrounding delights.  We miss the urgent messages from God intended to reach our ears with necessary frequency:

“I am with you. I love you.”

 

When it feels like our prayers are unheard and that God is far away and unreachable, a little bit of terror creeps in, like a small child separated from a parent in a crowd.  I imagine God reaching over, removing the headphones from our ears, and softly reminding us that He’s right here. In those moments when He catches our attention, will we pause the playlist and listen, or turn it up so we don’t lose our goal-seeking pace?

The kingdom of God is at hand. The glory of the Lord is all around us. When we miss it, it isn’t because it isn’t there, but because we aren’t looking. We aren’t seeing. After sharing a parable with a crowd, Jesus spelled out its meaning to His disciples. He said that their eyes and ears were blessed because they saw and heard. He reminded them of Isaiah’s description of rebellious Israel, “For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes” (Matthew 13:15a).

Let’s open our eyes, disciples, and witness the glorious kingdom of God.

 

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.

Ruth’s Redeemer

This look at Ruth is an excerpt from The Other Three Sixteens.

“When Ruth came to her mother-in-law, Naomi asked, “How did it go, my daughter?” Then she told her everything Boaz had done for her…”

-Ruth 3:16

Let’s open the pages of the book of Ruth and get a glimpse of heartbreak and healing through the eyes of a faithful young woman.

The story begins with sadness. Three women, Naomi and her daughters-in-law, are grieving the deaths of their husbands and facing an uncertain future. Besides the heartbreak of losing a spouse, widowhood was exceptionally problematic in ancient society. Women relied on men to provide for them, so without a husband or son, these women were left without resources.

But, Naomi was not a woman who passively sat back and allowed life to pummel her. She’d been living as a foreigner in their current country, Moab. It made sense for her to return to her home in Bethlehem. Practically, she encouraged her daughters-in-law to return to their own families in their native Moab and remarry. Though one daughter did just that, the other stayed. And so we meet Ruth, a daughter-in-law who declared her loyalty to Naomi, Naomi’s family, and even Naomi’s God. By remaining with her mother-in-law, Ruth gave up a chance for secure life. She chose poverty with Naomi over provision without her.

The two women arrive in Bethlehem with very little besides their mourning hearts. For nourishment, Ruth goes to the fields to collect scraps the harvesters leave behind. It just so happened (translation: God’s hand was at work) that Ruth chose a field owned by a guy named Boaz, a distant relative of Naomi’s. Not only was Boaz successful, he was also kind. He gave Ruth water and something to eat. He allowed her to gather more than meager scraps, and told his workers to leave extra on the ground for her. Ruth returns home with a bounty.

Chapter three begins with Naomi thinking practically once again. She knows that Ruth needs a stable home and she thinks Boaz is just the guy to provide it. Using her knowledge of their customs and Boaz’s evening plans, she gives Ruth specific instructions. When we read verse 16, Ruth is returning home the morning after and reporting back to her mother-in-law “everything Boaz had done for her….”

In addition to his kindness in the fields, Boaz demonstrated compassion by promising to care for Ruth as a guardian-redeemer (hold on to that detail). He also kept her honor by allowing her to return home before daylight so it wouldn’t arouse unnecessary rumors or speculation. Boaz also gave her barley for Naomi. This is a guy who goes above and beyond for Ruth. Could it be true love?

Not all the love in this story comes from Boaz. God is clearly at work in the life of Ruth. Remember, she is not an Israelite. The favor she’s given is not because of her heritage. Ruth did, however, choose to serve the God of Israel. She had sacrificed the comforts of a secure life in Moab in order to worship the one true God. How great is our God? He doesn’t require us to come from a certain heritage before he welcomes us in as his own. Our choice to serve and worship him is all it takes to be part of the family. The only prerequisite to the Lord’s blessing is a heart that chooses him. There’s no test to pass, no burnt sacrifice to offer, no spiritual hoops to jump through. Just “declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9) That’s the love of our heavenly Father.

A loving father provides for his children, and God is no exception. In fact, our Heavenly Father goes beyond what anyone on earth could do. We see the providence of God all through the book of Ruth. Proverbs 16:9 reminds us that “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” Nothing that happened to Ruth or Naomi was an accident. It was not coincidence that led Ruth to Boaz’s field, nor was it happenstance that Boaz noticed her and gave her favor. Even if Naomi’s idea for Ruth to visit Boaz that night were completely her own (which, knowing how faithful Naomi was to the Lord, it’s pretty unlikely that this was out of the blue and without prayer), God allowed Boaz’s response to be favorable.

Now, let’s go back to that whole “guardian-redeemer” thing. A man in the family who was a “guardian-redeemer” could help relatives in need. The title literally means “a family member who can buy back”- such as purchasing family land that had previously been sold or buying back a member of the family from slavery. Other responsibilities included marrying a childless widow, like Ruth. Boaz was such a guardian-redeemer, and he fulfilled his role very well!

And we have our own guardian-redeemer! We’re slaves to sin. There’s no way around it. It’s human nature to sin, and therefore the consequences are unavoidable. We’re trapped. That’s where Christ steps in. The Son of God is our guardian, and he’s the Son of Man who walked to earth in the flesh-our kinsman. He stepped in to pay the price that would buy us back from the slavery of sin. That cost was the highest imaginable- his death on the cross, his life for ours. But, more than Boaz loved Ruth, Jesus loves us and he willingly redeemed us, despite the sacrifice.

Ruth’s story ends with a “happily ever after.” Boaz marries her, and they have a son. The baby continues Naomi ’s family line, and extends all the way to their descendant, King David, and then to Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. God’s loving provision went beyond Ruth to cover the world.

Gideon’s Game

A story of an underdog who leads a small group of men against a great military force and utilizes the element of surprise with the creative strategy of the Lord Most High…. Whew! What a wild ride!

It’s no wonder that kids love Gideon.

The story:

Jump over the Judges 6-7 for the full Biblical account. It begins with the Israelites under oppression from Midian. In the midst of this struggle, the Angel of the Lord pays a visit to a humble man named Gideon who is hiding out and threshing some wheat. The Lord greets Gideon with a bold “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you,” despite the fact that Gideon is the least in his family from the weakest clan in their tribe. Why would the Lord choose such a guy and call him a hero?

The answer is in the greeting- “The Lord is with you!” It is the power of the Lord that makes a hero!

Then comes the shocking news- Gideon will lead the victorious fight against the Midianite forces and rescue Israel. He needs a bit of reassurance, so he devises a test that involves leaving some fleece out overnight. First, if the fleece is dewy and wet on the dry ground by morning, it’s a sure sign that God is truly with Gideon. But, to be extra thorough and make sure it’s God’s doing and not nature, he switches things around for night #2. This time, if the fleece is dry but the ground is wet, he’ll know for SURE the plans are from God. Sure enough, all signs point to yes.

Emboldened by the Lord, Gideon gathers an army. It’s a decent sized army, but feels pretty small compared to the greatness of Midian. In yet another surprise, God tells Gideon that he has too many men! Anyone who is afraid of battle is excused. The remaining men are told to drink from a spring, and the ones who used their hands (instead of lapping up the water like a dog) got to stay and fight. The final tally? 300 men. For reference, the Midianites had armies (that’s plural) that were “like a swarm of locusts”- too many to count. But this wasn’t a show of Israel’s strength; this was a display of the glory of God.

The Lord gave Gideon the plan. Each of the 300 remaining men received a horn and a clay jar with a torch inside. That night, they crept to the edge of the Midian camp. At Gideon’s signal, all the men blew the horns, smashed their jars, and shouted, “For the Lord and for Gideon!”

Understandably, this surprise explosion of light and sound threw the Midian camp into chaos. They fought each other, and those who survived ran far, far away. Gideon and his men were able to take the victory- just as the Angel of the Lord had declared.

The activity:

Such a dramatic story deserves retelling, but simply making paper torches and blowing kazoos to reenact the tale is old Sunday school news. We decided to play through Gideon’s victory by creating a board game!

First, we drew a simple scene on a piece of poster board. A few palm trees and a river to represent the spring were enough to spark imagination and leave plenty of room for the game spaces.

To create the spaces, we simply cut out squares from different colored construction paper and arranged them on the poster board to create a winding path. After securing the squares with a glue stick, we designated a start and a finish that we labeled “Victory!”

Finally, we printed out and attached a copy of the game rules to the board. Here’s how to play Gideon’s Game:

Each player places a game piece on the “Start” square. At least two people should play, but the group can be as large as your game board and time allow. We used shiny aquarium stones as our pieces, but any small object works- colored paper clips, fun erasers, buttons, pieces from another game… use your imagination (but watch for choking hazards if you have young players)!

Player one rolls a die and moves according to the number rolled.

Help Gideon Defeat the Midianites! Roll:

1– See an angel, move one space forward

2– Doubt God, move one space backward

3– Put a fleece out to ask God– stay where you are

4– Choose an army– move two spaces forward

5– Have too many men– move two spaces backward

6– Follow God’s plan with trumpets and jars– move 3 spaces forward

Players take turns rolling and moving along the path. The first person to reach the final “Victory!” space is the winner!

Half the fun is creating the game board. Then, playing through Gideon’s story reinforces memory. Move aside, paper torches. Gideon’s got game.