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.

Love From a Bush On Fire

Love From A Bush On Fire

The Other Three Sixteens is in the middle of the publishing process, but here’s a sneak peek at what’s happening on the page.

“Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt.”

– Exodus 3:16

Moses is a central character in the book of Exodus, beginning with his birth and following his journey as he leads the people out of Egypt toward the Promised Land. By the time we arrive in the third chapter of Exodus, Moses has left his adopted childhood home in Egypt and established a new life in Midian. He’s got a wife and young family to support while shepherding his father-in-law’s flock of sheep. All seems calm and quiet until he stumbles upon a strange sight on the far side of the wilderness.

He finds a bush, and it’s on fire. However, the fire is not consuming the bush in the usual charred and smoky fashion. This calls for closer examination. As Moses peers into the fire, a voice calls his name, right from the bush! Moses calmly replies, “Here I am.”

The fact that this whole scene does not freak out our guy Moses is remarkable in itself. It speaks to the calming presence of the Lord in the midst of the miraculous. But the flaming foliage is not the main event here. God is- and he has something to say. First, boundaries are established. Moses is told not to come any closer, but instead remove his shoes in respect for the holy ground he finds himself standing upon. Once that’s settled, the Lord continues his explanation of why he’s called this holy meeting. He has heard the painful cries of the Israelites as they are oppressed in slavery in Egypt. He is going to deliver his people from bondage, and Moses will lead them out of their captivity.

Moses has some questions, and God, of course, has the answers and more. The two are discussing details when we get to Exodus 3:16: “Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt.” Let’s break this down and see where we find evidence of God’s love.

The first part is pretty straightforward; it’s part of Moses’ instructions. This is the beginning of an epic friendship, one that develops through the entire book of Exodus. The love between God and Moses was strengthened through adversity, plagues, miracles, and dependence. But, for now, we see God’s love in the act of entrusting Moses with the weighty task of confronting Pharaoh and freeing his beloved people. It’s a love that didn’t simply delegate a task. No, God was with Moses every second. Even at this very beginning, he provides direction and answers questions from a man who felt very unqualified for his job. God equips and reassures those he loves. The writer of Hebrews included this in his benediction as well. “Now may the God of peace…. equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21).

Let’s examine another interesting piece of Exodus 3:16: “I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt.” The people were suffering, and just when they thought they had reached their limit, the Egyptians increased their oppression. Yet, none of this goes unnoticed by God. Not only does he see, but he is closely watching. He is paying careful attention, purposely keeping his eyes on them. He is with his people; he has not abandoned them.

The next question is, then why did he allow the pain to last for so long? This is a huge inquiry that we all struggle with, and have, in fact, struggled with throughout the ages. The account of Job is likely the oldest book in the Bible, and it centers around the question of why suffering exists. When Job calls out with pleas of “why?!”, God answers him… but not necessarily with “because”. We get a glimpse of God’s glory and an assurance that his plans are perfect. Since then, we have learned that God’s big picture and his attention to detail and timing are intentional- and ultimately in our best interest. We cling to verses like Jeremiah 29:11 and Romans 8:28 when we can’t understand why things are seemingly wrong, but we trust that God is good. The Israelites also cried out to God. As their oppression went on, God was watching with compassionate eyes. They would remain in bondage no longer; a rescue was coming.

For the Israelites, darkness was literal slavery. Over the centuries, all of God’s people have experienced some form of darkness. It comes in all forms, big and small, external and internal. We face pain, bleak circumstances, injustice, catastrophes, illness, persecution…. These seasons are dark, and they can be long. We may feel unloved and forgotten by our Heavenly Father. But, dear child of God, God is watching. And don’t for one second think that he is a passive bystander. His never-faltering presence is a light in the dark. He is in the process of making something good and beautiful out of the deepest despair. God sees you. He cares about what is happening to you. He loves you. A rescue is coming.

Blinded by the Light

Check out this sample New Testament chapter from Bible Time for Active Kids!

You can find the whole book here.

The Scripture: Acts 9:1-19

Saul was not a very nice guy. He made life very difficult and dangerous for people who followed Jesus. Most of the Christians were afraid of him. One day, everything changed.

When Saul was traveling down the road, and bright light suddenly shown down on him! A voice from heaven said, “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” That means the Lord was asking why Saul treated the Christians so badly. Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus! Now go to the city and I will tell you what to do there.” Then Saul realized that he couldn’t see anything anymore. But he went to the city like Jesus told him to do.

Ananias was a man who followed Jesus. He had heard about all the terrible things Saul had done. When he was praying that day, God told him to help Saul. How do you think Ananias felt when God told him to go see Saul?

Ananias trusted and believed God when He said Ananias would be safe. He followed God’s instructions and discovered everything the way He said it would be. When Ananias met Saul and prayed for him, Saul could see again!

God changed Saul’s heart. The change was so big that Saul had a new name- now he was Paul. Paul was learning to follow Jesus, too. Soon, he would travel all over the land to tell people about Jesus and help them follow Him, too.

Is there anyone you know that doesn’t treat others very nicely? Is there a bully at school who is a little bit intimidating? God loves that person, too. In fact, God has a plan for his or her life, just like God had big plans for Paul!

Look up this memory verse and say it out loud: Acts 9:3-4 “Suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground. He heard a voice speak to him, ‘Saul! Saul!’ the voice said, ‘Why are you persecuting me?’” Pray about it: Thank God for loving us no matter how we behave. Ask God to help you see people through His eyes.

Active time! It’s not easy to depend on other people, but Saul needed lots of help while he was blind. Find a parent or buddy you trust, then cover your eyes with a blindfold. Let them help you walk, eat, and do other tasks. What is it like to need help? How do you think God was teaching Saul to depend on Him, too?

Bonus fun: God made a big change in Saul’s heart. Have you heard of upcycling? It’s changing something old into something new and better. For example, if you decorate an old can, you are able to use it as a beautiful pencil holder. What can you upcycle today? Ask a parent for ideas and help with any difficult projects.

Want more Bible Time for Active Kids? It’s available on Amazon now!