As with any highly opinionated blog post, selecting just five of my favorite Christmas songs is extremely difficult. I could just pick five, but I have decided to add a bonus category to this selection process. The first five are my favorite Christmas songs. By songs, I mean a blend of hymns/carols and popular seasonal tunes that peak by lyrical and audio tastebuds and compel me to crank up the volume.
The second bonus category I call “My Prerogative” has been selected solely from a poetic and melodic perspective. I have, in this case, thrown out any theological implications or questions and opted to select these additional five because I like them. One might say, “well, that’s cheating; you said top 5.” And you would be right, but it’s my blog, and cue Bobby Brown’s…”It’s my prerogative.”
Let me skip the preamble and get to the good stuff.
I have played a lot of brass band Christmas music in my life, and when I first heard this song, I fell in love with Carol of the Bells all over again. I have always gravitated toward wailing guitar solos and rifs that get cranked up to the 11… For me, this is one version of an old Christmas tune that I find myself cranking up the volume to when I hear it start. Some might contend that this song has been overplayed, but I still can’t get enough of it. A few years ago, I was fortunate to go to a Trans-Siberian concert, and it was everything I expected it to be. There were pyrotechnics, fog, a storyline, and enough electric guitars to melt your face…it was awesome.
Let’s put aside our memes and retorts to the song’s question for just a second and focus on the vocals and the mastery of the minor chords, which always seem to create mystery and awe. I loved the original recording that was sung by Michael English years ago. The song was written by Mark Lowry, and if we don’t delve too deeply into theology, perhaps we could simply ask ourselves, “Do we know Jesus as Lord of all creation?” I simply love the acapella version from Pentatonics because it carries a depth of vocals, and gave me chills the first time I heard it. Am I judging songs on emotion as well as lyrical depth? Perhaps. Some of you will disagree with me, but that’s my opinion and why Mary Did You Know made this list.
3. What Child is This?
This is another Christmas song, sung in a minor key, that absolutely captivates me and creates within me a sense of awe and wonder. There are many great versions of this song, such as the one by Chris Tomlin and All Sons & Daughters, or beautifully done by the One Voice Children’s Choir. I love this song for many reasons, especially when one gets to the chorus and the refrain is boldly proclaimed:
“This, this is Christ the King Whom shepherds guard and angels sing Haste, haste to bring him laud The babe, the son of Mary.“
Amy Grant’s entire Home for Christmas Album is a heartwarming collection of songs that have stuck with me for years, and I find solace while listening to this album on repeat while at work or when I need to relax. Breath of Heaven (another minor song, I’m sensing a theme here) makes me contemplate that Holy birth through an intimate glimpse into the nativity. I can’t help but be drawn in and held captivated by hope and expectation.
The allure of this song stems from the ancientness of this tune. Originally written between the 6th-9th century in Latin sung in monasteries during the last seven days of Advent. The English translation was introduced to the world in 1851. This Christmas song elicits something old and sacred and resonates within my heart everytime I hear its words sung. There are many, many versions available online of this song, and, for the most part, I love them all. It captures in me the joyous expectancy of the Christ-mass again and helps me explore the Savior’s birth, the context and longing for Messiah in the ancient world, and the source of true Christmas in this modern world.
I love, love, love this song. Supposedly written by John Jacob Niles in the 1930’s began as a fragmented collection of lyrics and became a Christian folk tune. The lyrics leave the listener to peer into melancholy three stanzas and meet a Savior who came ordinary folk. It invites all of us to not only the manger but also the crucifixion. Folk songs tell stories and evoke feelings and imagery that appeals to our emotions and our hearts. This song has always strummed those chords within my heart as well.
The beautiful poetry of Christina Rossetti and the tune written by Gustav Holst and later Harold Darke evoke a classical progression of Nativity, dominion, and salvation for the whole world. The mournful tune haunts me while the words often draw tears to my eyes in contemplation of the Divine. In the Bleak Midwinter is one of my favorite poetic and melodic Christmas songs and I hope it’s yours as well.
The tune was written by Franz Gruber to the lyrics written by Joseph Mohr. The piece has much lore attached to it and has been translated and sung in many different languages around the world. It is a beloved Christmas song and I could not leave it off of this list.
2. Oh Holy Night
I love this song because it is complicated to sing, yet it is beautiful, glorious, and poignant. “Oh night divine, oh night when Christ was born…” It always gives me pause and helps me slow down my fast-paced lifestyle to experience the true significance of Christmas.
A friend suggested this song, and now I cannot get it out of my head. Its message strikes at the very nature of our fallenness, yet still speaks to the Savior’s presence in the lowliest of person no matter how hurt and broken that person is – Jesus comes to you and me. Christ is born for YOU. If ever the world needed to hear that refrain it is now. So many come to this holiday season carrying so much hurt, brokenness and despair. The message of hope at Christmas is available to bring healing, restoration, hope, love and joy for all.
That’s It That’s my top 5 (plus 5 more) Christmas song list. Perhaps you saw my list and it resonated with you. Perhaps you read the songs on my list and thought that I missed one of your favorites. Let me know in the comments below if I was one target or way off the mark. I would love to hear how your favorites list matches up to mine.
Have a blessed Christmas, dear friend. I hope the Lord continues to bless and keep you and yours.
The night had grown dark as the shadows fell upon the buildings of Jerusalem like thick blankets, cool and sleepy. Creeping along the side roads and alleyways, Nicodemus made his way to the house where he knew Jesus was staying. He did not want to be seen, after all, as a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling council, he had a reputation to uphold…and yet he felt compelled to seek out this Rabbi.
Perhaps Nicodemus witnessed Jesus, red faced and angry as he cleansed the Temple when others had turned it into an ancient Walmart; Or perhaps he had witnessed or even heard through second-hand knowledge of Jesus’ miracles. Regardless of the ‘why’, Nicodemus had to seek Him out.
Nicodemus stands sheepishly at the door momentarily seconding guessing himself before finally knocking. He hears someone stir from within, and the voices that had been loud and jovial only a moment ago, quiet down as if to wonder who could be at the door at such a late hour. Wide eyes peer out as the door cracks open, for a moment there is silent, shell-shocked surprise as the homeowner recognizes Nicodemus standing there. Why would a Pharisee come here, and why so late?
As if in reply to the silent question, Nicodemus asks politely, “Is the teacher Jesus here?
I can almost envision a flurry of questioning and worried looks from within. Questions like, ‘Is this Pharisee here to harm the Master?’, and ‘What could he want?’, or even, ‘What can we say to make him leave?’ Finally the owner leads Nicodemus to the roof, where the cool breeze of the evening makes this space the most desirable place in the house.
Jesus is seated there, perhaps looking out upon the city, pondering…or perhaps He knew Nicodemus would come and so he was simply waiting.
Nicodemus, nodding gratefully to the owner seats himself beside Jesus. In a way of greeting, Nicodemus, a teacher of the law and Rabbi in his own right calls to Jesus, ‘Rabbi’ in a manner of respect. “Rabbi, we know that you are a teach who has come from God…” -(John 3: 2)
Such a public declaration in the daylight would most certainly have tarnished his reputation or worse, and yet here in the privacy of the dark Nicodemus pours out his heart and speaks plainly to Jesus. “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
Imagine the scene, as Nicodemus declares that which is nearing blasphemy to the ears of his fellow Pharisees, and yet here in this quiet evening space, he speaks to what He knows in his heart is true. He has arrived at “God must be with this man – Jesus”…and Jesus is about to take him to the very feet of God himself. For a moment there is a pause in the conversation as Jesus collects himself and then looks at Nicodemus with the wisp of a smile, and he says, “This is the truth that I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
For a moment this puzzles Nicodemus. What could that even mean? How can one be physically born again? It is not possible! A Rabbi who is used to telling stories to teach a point is completely lost when Jesus uses a very similar method. Nicodemus finally speaks and asks his question, “How can someone be born when they are old? Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
Then Jesus looks at Nicodemus as if he can see into his very soul…and perhaps he could. Perhaps in all of his many years as a Rabbi and religious law enforcer, Nicodemus has never seen or heard of such wonders from one man. Perhaps somewhere in his heart and soul, the words of Jesus are being heard in a much different frequency. It is the frequency of truth, life and the source of all love. Perhaps in this very moment the creation has caught a glimpse of the Creator and there is a skipping of a heart beat and an inward ‘leaning in’ as if in response to a hunger that has been reignited once more that was only known in his younger, more eager days.
Jesus speaks to Nicodemus, and this time Nicodemus physically leans in, as if to catch this moment and words with his hands, mind and heart. Jesus speaks of the heavenly things and Nicodemus barely grasps the earthly ones, and yet from this night on, he will never be the same. Soon, the truth of Jesus’ words will reverberate in his mind as he witnesses Jesus’ crucifixion and death. The truth has set Nicodemus free this night. Where there was once doubt, certainty begins to grow. Where there was once earthly wisdom, heavenly wisdom is now craved. Nicodemus may have come under the cover of night, but will soon perhaps declare in the daylight his new found hope.
I wonder where we are in all of this. Do we have all of the head knowledge the earth can give us and yet we come up short when it comes to grasping this faith that Jesus offers to us? How do we comprehend so new life? Is there room in our understanding of faith to find rebirth?
Perhaps some of us are still figuring things out. Maybe others have begun that late night stealthy walk towards Jesus, hoping no one will see us as we explore. Still, perhaps others have met Jesus and have put their trust in Him.
Wherever you are on this journey, please know that Jesus is waiting patiently for you…but don’t wait too long. Don’t hesitate. Don’t procrastinate…because one day it will be too late. Grace truly does have an expiration date.
“One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.” -Psalm 27:4
There is the old testament story about a woman named Hannah. Hannah did not have any children of her own and she desperately wanted a child. So after one of the Jewish celebrations, Hannah goes to the temple and fervently prays to God to give her a child. She prays and weeps and is in deep anguish over this heartfelt need to be a mother. As she is praying and weeping, the priest Eli sees Hannah there, and he thinks she is drunk because her lips are moving but no words are coming out. So Eli goes and confronts her and even tells her to throw away her wine.
Imagine that for a second, this woman is crying out to God in one of her lowest moments and she can’t even catch a break without having Eli confront her in judgement. Hannah doesn’t lash out though, she just tells the priest why she is there and that she is not drunk. Hannah outlines her heartache and even says “I am very discouraged and I am pouring out my heart to the Lord.” (NLT translation). The priest responds by saying, “May the God of Israel grant you the request that you asked of Him.”
Scriptures then tell us that Hannah goes home and is at peace and starts eating AGAIN. Let’s stop for a minute and recognize that in Hannah’s distress she had stopped eating and was so discouraged in her heart.
Have you ever been there? Have you ever been so heavily burdened that you lose all appetite and thoughts of self-care?
One such moment comes to my mind in my life. My Wife had just tragically lost her mother in a horrible accident and for the next couple of days in the midst of our mourning we couldn’t eat and we barely slept. It was gut wrenching sadness and heartbreaking pain. Scripture tells us that there is a time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3)…and in our lives, most of us have experienced those times of mourning. I believe Hannah felt a certain kind of mourning in her life as well and that is why we are made to understand in 1 Samuel 1:9-28 that Hannah was not eating…or probably sleeping. Her heart was so heavy and burdened with this deep longing and sadness for a child.
In the Seeking – We Find. Hannah sought out God in this dark moment of her life. She knelt before God and didn’t care if anyone else was watching, and as she poured out her heart to God, and He was there listening.
It had nothing to do with a priest answering Hannah’s pleas…although Eli certainly did that. There wasn’t some sort of mystical words that Eli spoke that eased her heart. Rather, it was Hannah’s faith in the God that she prayed to that allowed her to find peace again. There was a certainty that filled that place where her mourning had been. Faith blossomed while her mourning decayed and faded away.
There is a truth of us in this. David certainly found it when he wrote this: “One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.” -Psalm 27:4
When we seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, ALL these things will be given to us (Matthew 6:33). But it starts with our seeking. Are we willing to search God and know Him? To truly know Him?! Not know of Him. Or about Him. But to truly KNOW Him?
What does it look like in our modern day to “dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life”? Let me give you a hint: it’s not just about going to church, but that’s a great start. It is about allowing God to dwell in your life every moment of every day. To literally breathe Him in and out in your actions, thoughts and words. So much so that your old self-induced life fades away to be replaced with a self-less holy one that reflects Christ completely.
Then, when we are heavy burdened, when we face daunting days of uncertainty (that can seem be insurmountable at times) we can seek God. We can know Him, and we can get up from our places of prayer and be rejuvenated in life by His spiritual nourishment, provision and love.
Questions to Ponder today: What is currently weighing on your heart? Have you prayed about these things to God? These prayers can be spoken out loud or silently. They can be written down or thought in your mind as you go about your day. But one thing that truly helps is that you verbalize your burdens to the Lord. Even though He already knows them, speak them to Him. Lastly do you trust that God is not only listening to your prayers, but that He is in your life and is a participant in it?
May we find what we seek today…and may we be seeking God as well purposely strive to dwell in the House of the Lord forever.
Something more for us to ponder today. To God be the glory.
I have a confession to make. Well, it’s really not much of a confession, more of a revealing of my nature. Here goes, I love technology. I love how it makes things convenient for me. My schedules are synced to my computer and my phone, I can create presentations from most of my mobile devices (of which I have multiple devices), and I can take striking photos and create beautiful banners that look like art…all because of technology.
The Dangers Despite the fact that I love technology, I have become more and more aware that I can become too dependent upon it for everything. My car even tells me where to go these days, so rarely do I acknowledge or recognize the direction in which I am going – my mobile GPS does it all…well, except drive (but I can’t wait until it can!…Okay, I digress).
Despite all of these technological advances in our age, I truly feel like we run the risk of losing the ancient and the sacred. What do I mean by this? Our attention spans have grown shorter since the introduction of cellular devices. You don’t believe me? Can you go an entire hour without looking at your phone, either to check for new status updates on social media or to see if that special someone has texted you? It is becoming increasingly difficult even for me to divorce myself from the tech all around me and I fear I am losing the sacred even in my own life.
How about you?
Can you put your phone down? Can you close your laptop, tablet, other devices without feeling the ‘itch” to check it again?
What do I mean by ‘Sacred’? If you were to study the spiritual disciplines, these things that I consider ‘sacred’ would be: Meditation Prayer Fasting
Study Simplicity Solitude Submission Service Confession Worship Guidance Celebration (In God’s Presence) (Source: Renovare )
It is very difficult to do any of these sacred things when our attention spans have grown short and shorter. For some of you reading this right now, you might even get hung up on the word ‘sacred’, because some of you perhaps have an issue with the practice of anything liturgical or what some might consider “high Church”…needless to say we can become so distracted that the sacred has died in our age, or is in its death throws as we speak.
Perhaps the next question should be: “How do we revive the sacred in our lives“? Here are my suggestions to help you with this process, but as a caveat to this, each person is different, and if you find that something works better than something else, do what helps you to revive the sacred in your life.
1) Make a list Make a list of all the distractions in your life. This will help you recognize the things that prevent you from entering into those sacred moments. Remember, that the elements are not the desired goal, but rather the fellowship with our Father in Heaven should be our desire. It is in the moments of the sacred that we encounter the Divine.
2) De-clutter a space. After you have acknowledge and listed the things that distract, find a specific space to de-clutter and prepare. No space is holy, it is our attitudes and focus that allows us to tune into the presence of God. So, if a closet is the space you choose, the so be it. God’s presence isn’t fixed in specific locations, because the Holy Spirit resides in His people. The space we de-clutter is for us, that we might focus and prepared to receive and listen.
3) Sit in Silence (Try not to fall asleep) I saw this partly in jest, because I have, at times, placed myself in silence and have struggled with slumber. Other times, your body is telling you to get more sleep, and perhaps we need to listen to that. A time of silence can help us enter into the sacred, although I openly acknowledge (as an extrovert) that this practice is much hard for me. Perhaps you will find it easier…if you do, please enlighten me by commenting below.
4) Converse with God. You don’t need special words, or a litany of things to bring Him…have an honest conversation. After all, He knows you better than you know yourself – He made you, so He understands your intricacies and nuances. He is aware of your situations and the things you struggle with. Be honest, because you can’t fool God – He already knows. What this conversation does is opens our lives before Him as we acknowledge elements of it verbally.
5) Begin with one of the above mentioned disciplines…study, read and apply: The last one will take patience. This isn’t an instant gratification, fast food type of habit. You must acclimate yourself. This will take discipline and acknowledgment that it will not occur over night, but rather gradually as you apply yourself to this task.
The sacred is not dead…yet. Don’t let it perish because of our distractions – at least in this generation. Perhaps we have to eliminate the distractions in order for us to return to the sacred. Perhaps it is within our own busy minds that this war needs to be waged. Where ever the distractions lay, confront them and carve out those intentional moments in which we might encounter the Divine.
“End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.” —J.R.R. Tolkien,The Return of the King
The telephone rang in my office. It was a darkening, rainy afternoon. The billowing clouds hung ominously outside, and in my heart there was also a tempest that was threatening to spill out into my life. It had been a hard couple of years in the ministry, and I had been contemplating my resignation as a pastor. I was frustrated, hurt, and very ready to pack it all in and call it quits. It was with a heavy heart that I picked up that ringing telephone and answered.
Little did I know that the prayer that I had been repeating in my mind and on my lips was about to be answered. – A local pastor was calling to donate some food to our corps because we had a large soup kitchen and we could always use the extra meals. I politely told the pastor that I would drive over to his church right away and collect the food. Isn’t it interesting how God knows just what we need even before we recognize it?
I made my way to his church and pulled into the driveway. The church was an older gray stone building with a traditional cross at the top, and the customary blue and red stained glass window that faced the busy street. I parked at the adjacent gymnasium structure and knocked on the front door. The pastor ambled to the door and upon seeing the uniform, welcomed me in. He led me to the kitchen where the food was all nicely wrapped and ready…but something truly remarkable happened. I had come for food to feed others, but the Lord had other ideas in mind. I needed nourishment of the heart – for I was worn, weary and at the end of my rope.
I am not sure if you have ever experienced the moving of the Holy Spirit, but I am certain that the Lord had given me a divine appointment that day in order to help heal my wounded heart. The pastor began to talk to me about his ministry, and gave me a brief tour of the building. He described the basketball program and the youth ministry. We chatted for a few more minutes and then it all spilled out…It felt like I was in a safe place, far away from judgment and ridicule…and so I shared with him my hurt. It was like unloading a burden I had been carrying around for far too long. I told him about my heartache I had experienced in the ministry, and the wounds that had been inflicted while on the pastoral battlefield. He understood. He didn’t say, “well you just need to try harder“, or “perhaps you just aren’t walking with the Lord enough“; or even “maybe you’re just not cut out for ministry.”
No, rather, he just listened.
He let me expose the festering wound of my heart that refused to heal. I had not been able to articulate it, let alone face it before. But here in a gym kitchen, I felt led to bear the wound and let the infection be seen.
Finally after I had finished talking, the pastor told me about his own hurt. How years ago he had moved to this town. He had left another ministry that had been difficult and it too had wounded him. Leaning on a stainless steel island in a small kitchen, he then prayed for me, and the power of the Holy Spirit began working in my heart. I can’t tell you that I was miraculously healed in a single instant, but the pain, bitterness and hurt started to be addressed by the Lord. I was a broken vessel in need of repair, and the hands of God were more than willing to remold me again. Dare I say that the Pastor was only being faithful to the Lord, while the Lord applied the much needed salve to a wounded life. Isn’t it funny how God has a tendency to do that – use the faithful at the most unlikely of places, and just the right moment?!
After the Pastor prayed with me, he asked me if it would be alright if he contacted a couple of other pastors that he knew, and if we could all meet over breakfast sometime soon. I accepted the invitation and promptly left with the food in my hands. Again, I had come to receive food for people in need, when I was also in need myself – in need of spiritual nourishment and hope. I walked away from that encounter a little lighter.
I told my wife about my time with Pastor Steve, and explained that I felt the Lord had placed him in my path.
A little while later I received a phone call from Pastor Steve, and true to his word, he was inviting me to a breakfast with his group of pastors. I had been in other pastor groups before, and sometimes it felt like it was a forced fellowship. I went to the first breakfast with that thought in mind, but I was extremely surprised to find a group of guys who loved being with each other. The laughed together over coffee and toast. I felt as if I was being welcomed into a fellowship I didn’t deserve…and yet here they were warming my heart.
Over the course of the next few months I met with this pastor group. We met every couple of weeks, and there wasn’t any agenda except to encourage one another, to pray for one another and share the in the journey. I came to pick up food only to be fed…
Pastor Steve helped to pick me up, a wounded pastor, on the way while traveling on the same journey…and I am forever grateful for that divine appointment. It was just before Thanksgiving last year that Pastor Steve went in for a routine gall bladder surgery only to discover that it wasn’t gall bladder at all, but rather terminal cancer.
I recall the sheer shock of that horrific news. Yet, through it all Pastor Steve remained a faithful servant of God.
Just today, mere weeks before Thanksgiving – almost one year to the day – Pastor Steve went to be with the Lord. I mourn the loss of such a man of God. This world is better because he walked it. My life is better because he journeyed for a time along with me. He shared in my hurt, and helped to heal the deep wounds of my heart. I know that I will always be thankful for his ministry in my life…even though it was for but the briefest of times. Just like markers in life – where we remember the turning points and milestones – Pastor Steve stands there on one of those points in mine.
I came to pick up food for others only to be fed…and that was a divine appointment designed by the Lord and enacted upon by a faithful servant…thank you Steve! And now while I continue to travel this path, may I too faithful recognize those divine appointments that must enter and help those who walk behind me.
“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” -C.S. Lewis.
YouNot all of us pastors have the luxury of having a full worship band, pianist and an ear for music. Let’s face it, some of us reading this article right now can’t carry a tune in a bucket…and that’s okay. We don’t all have to have the gift of music. Scripture even points out the various gifts that we are all given and appointed with (Eph 4:11, 1 Peter 4:10-11), and just as the focus on speaking in tongues can become an issue, so too then use of music. Don’t get me wrong, music in worship can be most beneficial to the body of Christ, but it should be viewed as a conduit to deeper worship, not the desired end result.
Today, let us focus on this element of worship with the non-musical pastors in mind. If you fit this mold, then take note. My wife is very, very talented in other areas of ministry, but she will openly admit that music is not one of those talents.
There are many, many pastors in small churches or corps that do not have a musical bone in their bodies, and that’s okay. I want to help you find some tools to use within worship that will assist you and your congregation within and even around the conduit of music on Sunday.
1) YouTube Videos/YouTube Video Downloaders.
If you are not musical at all, you might utilize a plethora of Christian worship music on YouTube. There are even Youtube downloaders that you can use to have the videos accessible in places of worship where WiFi and the internet are sketchy or nonexistent. Using a video on YouTube could include modern top 40 Christian songs, a movie clip, or numerous other topics other than just music.
Don’t neglect the power of videos and or worship songs in your Sunday services. Feel free to be creative and intentional in the planning of your service theme too. Caution: This will take time, so don’t just throw everything together on Saturday night and expect amazing results…intentional planning takes time and hours. We are all busy people, but not taking the time to find the appropriate videos and/or music, is noticeable in our services (I’ve been guilty of this too).
2) iSing Worship (app)
This is a great app that does cost a little bit, but is a tremendous tool if you have a portable device like an iPad or iPhone. The app is free, but the songs will you about $3 a piece, which is only a dollar more than what you would pay for songs you currently buy on Google Music store or the apple iTunes Store. When you buy these songs, you then have the ability to include all of the elements of the song (i.e lead vocals, guitar, drums etc.). So, for instance, if you wanted to lead the song you could turn the vocals down and sing with the music like it was Christian Karaoke hour. Or iSing worship could become your worship band in a box by simply hitting play. Be sure, however that you plan the songs you are going to sing ahead of time and have the words either printed or displayed on the screen for the congregation to sing along.
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11
Let’s face it, we all encounter difficult days…some more difficult than others.
There are days that we can manage on our own, and then there are days when we are completely floored by the problems that come our way. The pressures may seem impossible to overcome, and sometimes that may be true…
I know what you’re thinking, “that doesn’t sound very encouraging to me”…let me finish:
The pressures may seem impossible to overcome, and sometimes that may be true…but we were never meant to handle it all on our own.
In the Apostle Paul’s day, the new believers in Thessalonica were encountering all kinds of trouble. Thessalonica was the largest city in Macedonia which boasted over 200,000 people. This city was known for being a military and commercial port city. So within this large city in Macedonia, these young Christians were encountering all sorts of trouble – even persecution and death because of their new-found declarations of faith. In the midst of their living testimonies, they longed for the day of Christ’s return. What does that mean? They lived in fear every single day, and couldn’t wait for Christ to come back. And so these young Christians lived expectant lives while encouraging each other onward.
The persecution in Thessalonica must have been fierce for the Apostle Paul to remind them that they needed one another and they ought to continue (“just as you are doing”) to encourage one another.
Let’s put this into perspective:
We might not be facing certain death for our faith, instead we might be struggling to pay rent, finding funds to feed our families, enduring a tough problem at work or at home…all of these situations are arduous and, at times they keep us up at night. The killer is silence.
What do I mean?
We think no other Christian is struggling, and if they are it must mean that their faith isn’t strong enough. This could not be further from the truth.
We have this idea that we shouldn’t let other Christians know how discouraged we really are, because we don’t want them to think less of us. Because we don’t want others to talk. Because we fear judgment of others. Because we believe in the perfect Christian life that really doesn’t exist…because we’ve bought the lie that to be a Christian means we don’t struggle with these things anymore.
And so, silence is a killer.
No one knows.
We don’t share.
And our hurts go unchecked, unnoticed, and unaddressed.
How can we encourage one another if we aren’t being honest with each other?
How can we carry each other’s burdens if we allow silence to slowly kill our souls?
We cannot continue to buy the lie that everything is fine when we face times of trial and we keep it private. (Some will laugh at this and say, but church is full of hypocrites and gossipers…then find REAL believers in whom you can confide!)
Healing can begin with out this kind of encouragement, but long is the process and deep the scars. When we have others who will journey beside us, and encourage us, we will find added strength, hope, abundance and encouragement.
So we did a weekend of Messy Church recently, that consisted of 2 hour segments on the topic of the “I Am’s” of Jesus. I would recommend along with leaders at the stations, you have a time keeper to keep the stations and children moving. These Messy Church plans can be adapted and adjusted to meet your church’s needs and the demographics of your congregation. I will also add that you invite your older members and adults to participate and perhaps even become a child in a way to help the children stay engaged. (This can be a challenge, but it is very effective when done correctly)
Theme: “I am the vine”
Scripture Verse – John 15:1-11
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
The Fruit of the Spirit Song 5 Minutes
Instruct Kids and Teachers
1) Bobbing for apples 20 minutes Items Needed: 1 Large basin or feeding trough
4-10 bags of apples depending on the size.
Lots of water
This station is pretty self-explanatory, tell the kids this is a timed activity.
Kids are to put their hands behind their backs and, using only their teeth, pick an apple out of the basin. Use your phone/stop watch to time the kids to determine who has the fastest time in retrieving an apple. Have the kids try this a few times (of course replace “used” or gross apples with new ones), make sure everyone gets a chance to try this activity.
After everyone has taken a turn ask these questions:
What was the object of this game?
Did you think bobbing for apples was hard or easy?
Who here likes apples?
What kind of apple is your favorite? (types of apples include: Granny Smiths, Gala, Fuji, Honey Crisp, McIntosh, Golden Delicious…just to name a few)
Say: Apples are an amazing fruit that grows on trees.
Each apple grows from a tiny seed that can be found inside of these apples.
Apple trees grow from these seeds and can take up to 3 years to grow and produce new apples.
Apple Trees needs pruning from time to time in order for better fruit to develop.
Ask: What would happen on an apple farm if an apple tree didn’t produce apples?
(answer: it would be cut down and a new tree would be planted in its place)
Matthew 15 verse 4 says, “. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”
God wants us to love Him and always keep His word in our hearts. If we do this, we will be able to witness to others through the way that we live our lives. And this is what it means to bear fruit!
Ask: What are ways that we can show God’s love towards others?
-At this time send the kids to the next station-
2) Vine Bracelet Craft 20 Minutes
the trick is using something called a braiding disc, or braiding loom. It’s just a round piece of cardboard with some slots in it, but it makes bracelet-weaving a lot easier compared to the bracelet-making method described in most books .
Ready? First up, you’ll need to gather your materials.
Friendship Bracelet (The whole kits are available at Michaels and other craft stores)
All you need is:
7 strands of yarn, each 2 feet long
1 piece of cardboard, e.g. breakfast cereal box
pair of scissors
Step 2: Make the Starting Knot
Line up the ends of your 7 strands of yarn, then tie a simple overhand knot like this. Make it so that there’s about 1″ (2cm) of loose ends poking out of the knot.
Step 3: Put the Yarn on the Braiding Disc
Poke the knotted end of the yarn bundle through the hole in the center of the braiding disc, like this:
Then clip one piece of yarn into each slot, except the top slot. Your braiding disc should look like this:
Step 4: Braid Your Friendship Bracelet
Braiding your bracelet with the disc is really easy. There are just two steps to learn and repeat.
Hold the disc so that the empty slot is at the top. Un-clip whichever yarn is in the bottom-right slot and clip it in to the top slot, like this:
Now the bottom right slot will be empty. So, rotate the whole disc so that the empty slot is at the top again, like this:
Now, just keep repeating Step A, Step B, Step A, Step B etc, and your bracelet will grow. It seems a bit like magic the first time but it really works!
As you continue, you’ll see your bracelet growing down through the hole in the center of your braiding disc, like this:
Step 5: Un-clip from Braiding Disc
Once the bracelet is long enough to go around your wrist, in-clip it from the braiding disc. It should look something like this:
(I used a bit too much yarn on this one, so the loose ends are quite long.)
Step 6: Tie Finishing Knots
Tie an overhand knot (just like in step 2) right at the point where the braiding ends. Then tie another overhand knot about 2/3″ (1.5cm) away. Trim the loose ends. The end of your bracelet should now look like this:
After the craft, or during SAY:
What would happen if one of these threads were taken out?
What would happen if one of these threads wasn’t included in the braid?
Would you notice? (Of course you would!)
Each thread is just as important as the next, without each piece doing its part in this bracelet, it cannot become what we want it to be.
Think about how God sees us.
He loves each and every one of us.
We are all different, with many different gifts and abilities.
A part from one another, we are all unique and beautiful…but what happens when we put all of us together like these threads? What happens when we all agree, and we have this thing called “Unity”? Is that a good thing?
Say: Just like these threads, when put together, we are so much stronger than when we are a part. Today in our scripture verse, God tells us that He is the vine and we are the branches. This means that with God all things are possible, and when we are connected to Him, we are so much stronger! He wants for us to be connected to Him.
Ask: How can we stay connected with God?
(Praying, Reading the Bible, going to Church, hanging out with other Christians…)
So today, as a reminder of how we are to be connected with God, think about this every time you look at this bracelet or as you wear it. Remember that God loves you and has connect us together in an amazing way!
3) Vine Stomping Painting: 20 Minutes
Items Needed: Large Basin – enough for 1 or 2 kids to stand in.
Large Bottles of Paint – Purple, Green, Blue…etc
1 -2 large water basins for washing feet afterwards
Long roll of butcher block paper or construction sheet paper
Instructions: *this will get messy!**
One or two at a time (depending on the size of the basins of paint) have the kids take off their shoes and socks and place them to the side neat and tidy so they don’t lose them afterwards.
Roll out the butcher block paper ahead of time onto the floor – long enough so that every child can get their feet onto the long paper. Once the kids get into the paint basin, have them stomp down (but not so hard that they splatter paint out the basin, just enough for them to feel the paint between their toes). Once their feet are adequately covered in paint, have the kids carefully (CAREFULLY!!) Step out of the basin and right onto the Butcher block paper. Have them create grapes on the vine by only using their feet as the paint brush.
Ensure every child gets a chance to do this creative activity, once they have completed the painting, have each child wash their feet off in the other water basin and dry them with paper towels, perhaps have an extra adult help them in and out of the basins (both the paint and water basins)…to avoid anyone from slipping and falling.
Following the painting activity, have the kids sit down for just a few moments and ask these questions:
Ask: So what was your favorite part of this painting activity?
What was your least favorite part?
Who likes getting messy here?
Who can’t stand getting messy?
Say: So let me ask you about grapes, does anyone like to eat grapes or drink grape juice?
Did you know that a long time ago in order to make grape juice and wine people had to get into large basins like these and stomp the grapes with their feet until they made the grape juice? It must have been a sticky job, but in Jesus’ day grapes were used a lot.
The bible verse that we are learning about today is all about the vine and grapes…Jesus used this idea with those he spoke to in order for them to understand how important a life with God should be. Jesus said “I am the vine and you are the branches”
Ask: does that sound like they are connected?
How are the grapes connected to the vine?
(Branches from the vine connect the grapes, without these branches there will not be any fruit)
How do we stay connected to Jesus?
What do we do to stay close to Him?
4) Outdoor activity20 Minutes
Outdoor or Indoor. This game is a normal game of tag with an added twist. When “it” tags someone, the person becomes part of “it.” Then the two of them must run hand in hand and catch their next victim who will join them. Last one caught by the “Blob” is the winner! The purpose of this game is to get everyone connected. We are the branches and Jesus is the Vine. If we stay in Him, we’ll bear much fruit! Even though the winner is the last one standing, the intentions behind this game is to show that God wants us to be connected to His son always.
5) Devotional & Music 5-10 Minutes
(If time permits) Song: Fruit of the Spirit Video Item Needed: Lamp and extension cord
Ask: So what did you learn tonight?
Who is the Vine?
Who is the Branches?
What was your favorite Messy Church activity tonight?
I am sure that you all know the song, “This Little Light of Mine.” I want you to help me sing that song this evening. While we sing it, I’m going to hold this light up and let it shine all around. (Start to sing the song, but stop when you notice that the light isn’t shining.) I wonder what is wrong, my light isn’t shining. (Someone will probably notice that it isn’t plugged in.) Oh, here’s the problem, my light isn’t plugged in.
Now that we are plugged in, let’s try it again. (Sing) Oh, that was much better. The lamp was shining brightly, wasn’t it? It’s pretty hard for a light to shine when it isn’t connected to the power source, isn’t it? Well, actually, it isn’t just hard — it’s impossible!
In our Messy Church lesson today, Jesus told his disciples a story to teach them the importance of staying connected to him. Of course Jesus didn’t use a lamp to tell his story, because electricity hadn’t even been invented yet. Instead, Jesus used an example that his disciples would understand. He used the example of a vine. You know what a vine is, don’t you? It is a plant with a lot of branches growing out from it. The branches have fruit on them. If it is a grapevine, the branches should have grapes on them.
Have you ever seen a branch that has been broken off of a tree or a vine? What happens to it? That’s right, it withers up and dies. Can it ever have any fruit on it again? No, it isn’t any good for anything — except fire wood.
Jesus said, “I am the vine and you are the branches. If you remain in me, you will have much fruit, but apart from me, you can do nothing.” Jesus wants us to produce a lot of fruit. Good fruit like being kind, generous, and faithful. Most of all, he wants us to love others as he has loved us.
Can we do that on our own? No way. Just as the lamp must be plugged in before its light can shine, and just as the branches must be connected to the vine before they can produce fruit, you and I must stay connected to Jesus to produce the good fruit that God expects of us.
Close in Prayer
Theme: “I am the Good Shepherd”
Scripture Verse – John 10:7-11
7 Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.[a] They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. 11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
Introduction and Instruction:5minutes
Read the scripture with the children. Say: Today we are going to learn about Jesus the Good Shepherd and how we are to be His sheep who listen to Him and follow Him.
Dismiss to the first station together:
1) Sheep Collage craft20 minutes
Lead the kids through this simple of craft of creating sheep.
Help kids to cut out the sheep body outline, place cotton balls on the body, attach popsickle sticks to legs for support, and ensure all of the kids complete this project.
As you are creating the craft (or after)
Say: What kind of sound does a sheep make?
What kind of food do sheep eat?
Are sheep very smart animals? (The answer is no, they will often eat grass and wander around and often get lost if they aren’t watched closely).
What sort of things do sheep produce? (Wool – clothing, coats, socks…, and meat).
Say: Our scripture today tells us that the sheep hear Jesus’ voice and they will follow him, but they will not listen to the thief or the robber…why do you think that is?
Jesus can be trusted to lead us, because he loves us…just like the shepherd loves his sheep, to the point that he will lay down his life for them…Jesus did just that for us didn’t he? He died on the cross to save us from sin. As we go to the next station, I want you to think about Jesus who is the good shepherd who leads us.
2) Sheep cookies to frost & decorate20minutes Bring kids to the cookie table but encourage them not to eat or grab anything yet.
In this station we ended up using squares of graham crackers, cookie frosting, edible fondant eyes, and marshmallows to complete the ‘Sheep’ cookie creations. The other option is to make sugar cookies and create their designs with frosting, icing and other food decorating items.
Say: We just finished creating our own sheep by putting wool on it and you talked about Jesus being the good shepherd. What makes Jesus the good shepherd and not just the “okayist” shepherd? (He loves us, he died for us, He’s God’s one and only Son)…
Ask: What is your favorite flavored cookie? (Chocolate Chip, Sugar cookie, Gingerbread, shortbread, oatmeal raisin etc.)
What makes that cookie flavor your favorite?
Read:2 Corinthians 2:15 says; “For we are to God a sweet smell of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish…”
This world needs more of the sweetness of Christ! Ask: Do you know who can share this sweetness of Christ with others? Answer: You can! We all can! Say: When we share our things with others – the sweetness of Christ. When we tell others about Jesus – it is the sweetness of Christ. When we love other people even if they don’t love us back – that is the sweetness of Christ.
So as a reminder of how we are to be this sweetness of Christ for other people, we are going to decorate these sheep cookies with frosting and sprinkles…let’s get messy and creative!
3) Pin the wool tail on the sheep game20Minutes
Directions: Just like pin the tail on the donkey, we are going to pin the wool on the sheep.
Say: We need help to put the wool on the sheep, but of course, we have to do it blindfolded.
This can be a tricky game to play, but let’s give it a shot. (make sure you blindfold the kids tight enough so they cannot see, then spin them around a few times before allowing them to seek out the sheep with the wool in hand.
4) Outdoor activity
Barbarian Capture the flag:25 Minutes
Teams of 4 are competing against each other to get the other teams’ gold and to capture other team’s’ players, and put them in your jail.
Using two ropes, or red surveyor’s tape, divide the field into 4 sections. Each section has one prison area, which is marked off with either ducttape or surveyor’s tape. Each section also has a “gold depot” which is marked using hula-hoops or tape. Each team has their own color, which is a flag strip tucked into the front of each player’s pants. Every team gets an equal amount of “gold” to start the game, which is white socks, gold socks, and 1 gray work sock.
Start of Game:
When whistle blows, teams begin the attack. Another team can only catch you if you are in their section; likewise, you can only catch others in your own section (if you are “green” and you run into the “red” section, then you run across to the “yellow section, red can no longer capture you, but yellow now can). When you capture another team member, take their flag and report to the middle of the field to the scorekeeper, then return flag to the person in your prison.
In addition to capturing opposing team players, you are also trying to get their “gold”, without getting caught. You can only take 1 gold piece at a time, and if you are caught inside an opposition section, you must return gold to that team (no throwing gold into your own section).
What Happens When Caught:
Having your flag removed by another team player inside their section gets you caught. When this happens, you report to their prison area and can only get out of prison if a teammate tags you out, without getting caught themselves. If your teammate gets caught trying to free you, they must join you in the jail area. Once you successfully get tagged out, you and your teammate get a free passage back to your section. NOTE (the game coordinator may call “jailbreak” and free everyone in jail in all the sections at any given time, usually when there is a lop-sided number of players in prison).
How the Game is Won:
The game is won by accumulating points for every prisoner your teammates catch, and for each piece of “gold” left at the end of the game. You can run out of gold during the course of the game, but still get points by capturing prisoners and trying to grab other gold from enemy sections. The team with the most accumulated total points at the end is the winner.
White Socks- 3000 points each
Gold Socks- 5000 points each
Gray Socks- 10,000 points each
Prisoners- 1000 each player
Large, open playing area
2 Ropes (100+ feet each is ideal)
4 different colored flags, one for each section
White, yellow, gray socks
Bean bag fill for each sock
Scorers pad and pen
Duct tape and/or hula-hoops
Red surveyors or caution tape
The purpose of this game is to reveal the intentions behind the thief’s motives – all he wants is to steal what belongs to God. This is a great way to show that. I think the youth will enjoy this a lot.
5) Build a sheep pen10 Minutes Minute to win it block game – build the tallest “sheep pen” as quickly as possible within the 60 second time constraint. The person with the fastest time and tallest sheep pen wins a prize.
6) Devotional / Music10-15 Minutes
Ask: So what did we learn today?
Who is the good shepherd?
Who are the sheep?
Why is it important to listen to Jesus and follow Him?
BIBLE VERSE: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” John 10:11 NIV
Talk about shepherds and sheep. Explain to the children how sheep are not very bright, and they need a shepherd to take care of them, to bring them to green grass and pure water to drink. A good shepherd makes sure the sheep are happy and safe.
1. What will a good shepherd do for his or her sheep?
Jesus tells us that He is our Good Shepherd. What does this mean to you?
Today our Bible story is from the book of John. Jesus is talking about Heaven with the Pharisees and how He is the only way to get to Heaven. Jesus decided to use an example to help them understand. He compared Himself to a good shepherd and all of us to sheep. However, the Pharisees probably still didn’t understand. Let’s read the story, and find out what Jesus is saying to us.
Read John 10:11-15 (The Good Shepherd and His Sheep)
What does a shepherd take care of? (Sheep.)
Does a good shepherd lay down (or give) his life for the sheep? (Yes.)
What do you think this means? (The good shepherd would risk his or her own life to protect the sheep.)
What does a hired hand do when he or she sees the wolf coming? (Runs the other way leaving the sheep behind.)
What happens to a flock of sheep if there is no shepherd? (They may be attacked by a wolf and get scattered.)
In our Bible story, does the good shepherd know his sheep? (Yes.)
Do the sheep know the good shepherd? (Yes.)
How are we like sheep? (Allow for answers.)
Do we have a good shepherd? (Yes.) Who is our Good Shepherd? (Jesus.)Close in a song (optional) and a word of prayer.
If we end early, a video will be put on for the kids to enjoy, or we will play the above outdoor game again.
Saturday Evening PM
Theme: “I Am the Light of the world”
Scripture Verse – John 8:12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Introduction & Instruction time: 5 Min
Reiterate the weekend theme again, ask what the children have learned by recapping the sessions.
Then introduce today’s theme and sing a song or two (optional).
1) Stained glass mosaic craft 20 Min
Using a card stock frame, kids are to layer the bright tissue paper across the middle of the frame using glue or tape in order to make the faux stained glass. Encourage the children to use as many colors as possible or if there are some really creative/artistic students, have them design a dove, cross or other symbol within their stained glass frame.
As the craft is taking place engage the students in this conversation piece: Ask: What is your favorite color in this stained glass craft and why?
Which would you rather experience, complete darkness or a sunny day?
Is anyone scared of the dark?
What scares you about the darkness?
Why does having a night light or flashlight help?
(See where you are going, safety at night…)
Say: When stained glass was first put into churches, it was during a time when most people couldn’t read and only rich people owned books because they were very expensive. So people would come to church and look up at these amazing stained glass windows, and it wasn’t only that they were beautiful to look at, but each window told a story. There were shapes and colors that made up the image of Jesus on the cross…and then next to it would be another window with Jesus standing at the open tomb…and all of these windows could be seen because the light was shining through them.
In our scripture verse today, Jesus tells the listeners, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Jesus was telling the listener and even us today that the true light of Heaven comes only through Him…when we choose to follow Jesus, and when we choose to let His light shine in our lives, we have His eternal light in us that will never be extinguished. His light will guide us each step of the way. So as you look at your stained glass creation, may it remind you of the Light of Jesus, and may it help you to walk in His light!
2) Star creation craft 20 Min
Kids will glue/tape popsicle sticks together to make a star:
After securely gluing or taping the sticks into a star shape, kids will paint, bedazzle and design their stars. Glow in the dark tape will also be available, but use this sparingly. Ask the kids to name different stars and constellations.
(Star example: Northern Star, Sirius, Vega… Constellation Names: Milky Way, Andromeda, Aries, Aquarius…etc.)
Ask: Can somebody tell me how many stars are in the sky? Answer: In the Milky Way alone there are over 250 Billion Stars… Say: That’s like saying how many grains of sand is on a sandy beach or on the ocean floor. That is a really, really HUGE number!
It is amazing to think that God created the Heavens and the Earth and He created all of the stars including the 250 Billion Stars just in the Milky Way Galaxy!! And even with so many amazing things in our universe, God shines His light on us because we are extremely special to Him! Out in space there are places that are very, very dark, but we are in a place in the Universe that is just right for creation and for all kinds of life. We have a great big fire ball in the sky called what? (Answer: the Sun) that is out in the day time, and a moon at night.
Also the stars in the sky have been used for thousands of years to give travelers and explorers direction on this earth. Isn’t this an amazing thing that God has created? May this star that you just created remind you of the light of God and the fact that He guides us with His light. Also may we recognize just how big our universe is and how much God comes to our tiny corner of the world and shines for us. Because He loves us!
3) Game: The Light of the World 25 Min
Scripture : Matthew 5:14
YOU WILL NEED: A bag with slips of paper that tell something to do. Samples are on the last
Choose a volunteer—This volunteer will reach in the bag and pull out a slip of paper. The slip of
paper will instruct the student what to do. This student will be the “Light,” showing everyone else what to do. The “Light” may not speak (unless the instructions say so) but should lead everyone in accomplishing what is written. Once you, as the station leader, sees that the instructions have been followed, tell everyone to give him a hand, then point to someone else and say, “Be the Light.” They’ll come forward and thus the game continues. If a student doesn’t want to lead, don’t make them, but let everyone who wants to go have that opportunity.
After the game: Ask:
What was hard about being the Light?
What was fun about being the Light?
Did anyone feel embarrassed about being the Light?
Was anyone concerned about looking silly or foolish?
Read Matthew 5:14 – “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.”
How does this verse remind you of our game? (Both of them talk about the light; everyone
can see a city on a mountain, and everyone could see us doing the instructions.)
What does Jesus mean when He says, “You are the light”? (That we should live in such a
way that our lives are like a light that guides other people to God; and shine, or show them, His
life and love.
When you’re at school, why is it sometimes hard to be a light? (I don’t always want to do the
right thing; some people think you’re weird if you’re a Christian; I might be embarrassed? I’m
afraid I would look silly; my friends want to do wrong things.)
SAY: It can be hard to be a light. But when we shine Jesus’ love to our friends, we’re doing the
best thing we can, which is showing someone about Jesus. By being a light Jesus isn’t asking
you to do silly things, like what we did in our game. Jesus wants you to bring hope, courage,
and joy to people. He wants you to follow God’s Word and tell everyone that Jesus saves us. SAY: It’s both easy and fun to tell other people about Jesus. It’s as simple as saying, “Jesus
loves you,” or “Jesus will take care of you.” You can shine Jesus’ light to anyone you know
by your words and by how you live.
How can you shine your light so others can see Jesus in you?
What do you think would be some things people do on a playground or in sports
that show they are following the light? What are things people might do when
they are living in darkness?
What would happen if you stood up for someone being picked on in the
playground? How would that person feel? How would the bully feel? How would
you feel? How would Jesus feel?
What would stop you from telling a friend, “Jesus will take care of you,” the next
time they are afraid or upset? How do you think they might respond?
When you see someone at school get hurt, do you ever think about praying for
them? When you hear someone at school say a cuss word, do you ever think
about asking them not to use that kind of language around you?
Is there anything in your life that you do that Jesus wouldn’t like? Does that feel
like darkness? Who can tell more about how it feels when you feel guilty for
something? How can Jesus’ light that guides you help?
5) Camp Fire and S’Mores time. 15 – 25 Min
6) Devotional/ Music 10 -15 Min
Around the camp fire have the kids sit around the pavilion tables. Ask: What was your favorite part of the tonight’s Messy Church?
Theme: Reflecting the light of Christ
Song: This little light of mine..
Object: A mirror and a flashlight
Read Scripture: There was a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light: he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. John 1: 6-9 (NIV)
Say: Have you ever sat outside on a bright sunny day and used a mirror to reflect the sun’s light? If one of you will take this flashlight and shine it on me I will show you what I mean. You see, as the light shines on me, I hold up my mirror and I can reflect the light to shine on you. I am not the light, I am just letting my mirror reflect the light to shine on you.
Say: If I am going to reflect the light on you, there are a couple of things that are very important: I must keep my mirror facing toward the light. If I turn away from the light, I cannot reflect the light. I must make sure that nothing comes between the light and me. If that happens, I cannot reflect the light. The Bible tells us that “There was a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light: he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” Who do you think the true light is that the Bible said was coming into the world? That is right! It was Jesus. Jesus is the light of the world. In our focus verse today, Jesus even declared to the listeners “I am the Light of the world…”
So, if we accept Jesus as our light then you and I need to be like John. The Bible says that we are to let our light shine, but we need to remember that “Our Light” is Jesus. We are not the light, we are just mirrors that reflect His light. If we are going to reflect the light of Jesus, we must remember a couple of things:
We must keep our faces turned toward Jesus.
We must not let anything come between us and Jesus.
When we remember those two things, we will reflect His light to the entire world.
Pray: (something to this effect) Dear Jesus, we want to reflect your light in the world. Help us to keep our faces turned toward you and help us to keep anything from coming between us and you. Amen.
Theme: “I Am the way”
Scripture Verse – John 14:6
Intro to today’s Messy Church (DYS or Assigned Officers will lead this) 5 Min
Today we are going to begin our Messy Church with a scripture verse of John 14:6
“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Suggested Themed Music Videos you could play at the beginning: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ueMQV2Ax-MM
So in just a few minutes we are going to begin by heading to our first station, but first I want us to say our scripture verse together out loud, let’s read it together:
“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Are you ready for Messy Church today?
Let’s open with a word of prayer and then we will go off to our first station.
Pray and Dismiss
Pitcher of Water
Directions: Pour the water into the bowl.
Then rub the needle on the magnet about 10 -15 times
Place the small cork piece into the water, then place the needle on top of the floating cork.
As you do this, explain to the children that the needle, having picked up some of the magnetic attraction from the magnet is now starting to face magnetic north. So it spins until it points north and south. Tell the kids: Now, the Bible is a lot like this in our lives too. When we read about Jesus and what He did while on earth we begin to know more about God, and when we begin to know more about God, we begin to live for Him and we start to point others toward Him through our Godly examples.
Ask: What does it looks to live for God?
(get some of the kids to answer).
Why does it matter if we live for God or we don’t live for God?
Read: Then Jesus went to work on his disciples. “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for? (Matthew 16:24-26 Message Version)
Jesus wants us to point others to God while we follow Him.
If we don’t listen and we don’t care about other people, they may not see God through our lives. So today, I pray that God will give you a love for others in your heart. Let God lead you, and may your words and your actions point others to God.
Let the kids take turns in re-trying this experiment while comparing it to the compass to make sure it is pointing to magnetic North.
2)outdoor game 25 Min
Blind fold obstacle course:
Create an obstacle course (a playground works GREAT) and get your students or leaders to go in pairs. One from each pair is blindfolded, and the other will lead him or her through the obstacle course by using only their voice.
The purpose of this game is to help the person who’s blindfolded navigate the course by only hearing the voice that’s directing them
We’ll need two large trash cans, two long tables, and four chairs at the field near Ramsdale
Circle up the kids and ask them about the game – Ask:
How did you feel when you were blindfolded?
Did you trust the person who was leading you through the obstacle course?
How many things did you run into?
Does it help to have someone there who is looking out for you and helping you?
How confident are you that you could have made it through the obstacle course on your own?
Sometimes life is a lot like this obstacle course.
We often do not know how things are going to go in the future, or even in the next hour. We have to trust that God knows what He is doing. Trusting God can seem like a scary thing at times, especially when we have some big decisions to make in life. But do you know what? God promises to never leave us or forsake us. So sometimes, during this obstacle course we may have doubted the person who was leading us, and maybe we even tripped or ran into something because they didn’t lead us very well…But God isn’t like that. He loves us very much and He will lead us through the good and the bad times. So as we think about Jesus being the way, truth and life today, remember the God leads us and wants what is best for our lives.
3) Devotional / Music (20 Minutes) 20 Min
What was your favorite station today?
Which station did you not like and why?
Can anyone tell me what our theme for today has been?
Recap Scripture Verse (or if time allows, have one or a few of the kids stand and read it for the group)
John 14:6 “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
(Suggested Text or can be adapted)
A map and a portable GPS (Even a phone with a map app on the screen)
There was a time when a person going on a trip wouldn’t think of beginning their journey without a road map. (Hold up the map for the children to see.) The map was very helpful to the traveler in finding the way to where they were going. Today we seldom ever use a road map. Do you know why? Most of us who own a car also have a GPS in our car. (Hold up the GPS.) How does the GPS work? When you are ready to go somewhere, you type in the address where you want to go and the GPS connects to a satellite up above the earth and computes the path to your destination. As soon as you start driving, a map appears on the screen and a voice from the GPS gives you turn by turn directions. “Turn right on Main Street in one mile, turn right in one half mile, turn right in 150 feet, turn right.” What happens if you miss your turn? The GPS says, “Recalculating” and immediately computes a new route to get you back on the right path to your destination.
When we are trying to follow Jesus in our daily life, it would be nice to have a GPS to lead us in the right direction, wouldn’t it? It would be nice to have something to keep us on the right path and keep us from getting lost…something that would help us get back on the right track when we made a wrong decision.
That is the way Jesus’ disciples must have felt when Jesus told them that he was going to leave them. Jesus said to them, “I am going to prepare a place for you and when everything is ready, I will come and get you so that you will always be with me. You know the way to where I am going.”
One of the disciples whose name was Thomas answered Jesus, “No, we don’t, Lord. We don’t even know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus answered him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”
Another disciple named Philip joined in, “Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied.”
“Philip,” Jesus answered, “Have you been with me all this time and you still don’t know who I am? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking me to show you the Father? Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Anyone who believes in me will do the same things I have done.”
That was all the disciples needed to know to get them on the right path to the Father.
So, how do you and I find our way to the place where Jesus has gone to be with the Father? We have not seen Jesus as Thomas and Philip had, but we can follow the teachings that he has given to us in the Bible — God’s Holy Word. That is our GPS and it will keep us on the right path!
Heavenly Father, we thank you for sending your Son to provide the way to eternal life. Thank you for your Holy Word which will keep us on the right path in our journey through life. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
Dear fellow Ponderers…
I have been dragging my feet in writing this for some time.
Not because I didn’t want to write this edition to Pastorsponderings, but rather because I want to be careful in how I broach this conversation. I do not wish to offend and upset you – the reader. Some will no doubt become offended anyway, and I have come to terms with the fact that I will not always make everyone happy – that’s a fool’s errand anyway.
Perhaps in light of this Holy Week that we are all entering into we might also reflect on the Passover feast that Jesus participated in with His disciples…what we now call “The Last Supper”.
Thus, I write this with the utmost sensitivity and respect.
Is Communion Considered Taboo in our Army?
Within The Salvation Army, even the conversation of the Lord’s Table/Supper/Communion has become a taboo topic. It is almost as if we are forbidden to talk about it, let alone partake in this ceremony. Some have postulated that despite not participating in this ceremony, we have created our own sacred ceremonies in place of it, thus making the argument that we are non-sacramental in practice null and void.
I fear that failure to discuss such topics within our Army can lead to a polarization of our theological perspective, and variants of our doctrine might splinter and break off (as in some locations, it already has).
Some within our Army would treat the topic of communion with deep disdain to the point that the practice of it is almost treated as an organizational sin. It is my estimation that too much focus on such a topic in this light is a waste of time and not conducive to unity within our Army. There should be more open dialogue on this topic as I believe there should be on the topic of baptism. -Someone will inevitably lambaste me for that, but that would just prove my point that we treat such innocent conversations on the topic as complete taboo and even sinful to even mention, which is ludicrous.
Is Communion Misunderstood In The Universal Church?
In Luke 22 it is recorded the celebration of Passover that Jesus and His disciples were partaking of. This has now been dubbed “the Last Supper”, where Jesus knew that the time had come for Him to fulfill the final act of Salvation in His false trial, torture, and death by crucifixion. Thus, Jesus reclines with His disciples and takes in these final private moments with those He is closest with:
14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table.15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you.18 For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:14-19)
Could it be that over the centuries the emphasis (or fixation) upon the bread and wine have been misplaced? Didn’t Jesus preach in parable and often teach as Rabbis of His day taught? With questions and metaphor? When Jesus spoke of doing “this” in remembrance of me, is it not possible that it wasn’t just the bread and wine He was talking about, but rather the entire dinner together, the fellowship and unity of disciples? Is it possible that instead of coming together just to contemplate the bread and the wine, the whole ceremony of remembrance is just as vital? Coupled with the remembrance, the unifying love of Christ that binds it all together is the common denominator. So much so, that when the disciples gathered in another upper room together in perfect unity, they encountered the second blessing an the day of Pentecost? (Acts 2:1-31)
Perhaps, it is in the very practice of gathering in unity and prayer that we find the proper practice of Communion to be viable and appropriate – even commanded by Christ Himself. After all, didn’t Jesus also pray for unity of the believers when we said, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:21)
Dear Salvation Army,
Let me ask you a question: When are our Soldiers unified with the love of Christ?
When is it that we remember Jesus as our Savior and source of resurrection power?
Would you suggest that it is when we gather in times of confession, of worship, of fellowship? When does the mission of Christ within our Army become the most galvanized and evident in the body of believers?
Is there a time for ceremony and formal recognition? Of course!
What do those intentionally consecrated moments look like?
Could it be that Communion has been vilified in our Army? (Perhaps that is too strong a word)…
Is it possible that what Communion truly is – is the coming together of His disciples in fellowship and unity instead of mere ceremony? Can we do this over a meal together?
Perhaps instead on the over emphasis of the elements we have lost sight of the One who broke the bread and poured the wine?
What do YOU think?
Post your comments below and let’s continue this pondering together.
*Disclaimer: The views expressed here are of the author’s views and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Salvation Army. Reader desecration is advised. *
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13
I have another confession to make – I am restless…like pit of my stomach-aching restlessness. Some days I can put my finger on it, while other days it is as elusive as an honest thief. I am usually successful at pushing it back down, repacking that box that it lives in and stowing it away in that shadowy corner that I seldom travel to. Still, I know it’s there…and it weighs on me as if an elephant had decided to perch its rotund bottom on my chest.
I wonder if you feel this way sometimes?
Do you have to push it back down as well?
Do you have to re-tape that worn-out box and pretend that dark corner doesn’t even exist? Does it keep you up at night – blinking at the ceiling fan, counting the rotation of its blades as shadows dance off reflections of streetlights lit only for 3rd shift workers and insomniacs out for a stroll? I repress the urge to join them, to open the front door and walk barefooted down the now cooled, uneven sidewalks as I imagine myself trying to avoid the spiny round pods that fall haphazardly from the large gum tree in our front yard. I have stepped on these awful spiky seeds a time or two while walking barefoot down our path and even in the cool darkness of the night thoughts of the surprise pain causes me to recoil my feet from the lower spaces of my bed.
I wonder if David ever felt this way? The pre-murder and adulterous David…the one that tended sheep and slew predators to the flock. I wonder if he ever felt restless in his heart? I am sure he did when, later he was being pursued by jealous King Saul and his men. As David hid from cave to cave and village to village, I imagine him laying down on an uncomfortable uneven floor hoping to rest his weary head. I can picture his deep sadness as he yearned for his best friend Jonathan. Yet David trusted in God…but I would venture a guess that there were moments in which he was restless and he too had to push it back down and re-tape his box.
It is said that there is a season for everything…and yet Jesus told the people of his day not to worry about anything, yet I can’t help but find myself in the season of worry from time to time. Doe that mean that I am not heeding His words? That, despite my best efforts, I am not trusting in Him? Perhaps you have thought this also> I worry, but Jesus said not to, and here I am still worrying.< What do we do with these seasons? How do we find the glimmers and glints of hope in the mess of our minds? Sometimes we do believe the lie. What lie you ask? The lie that Jesus wasn’t really talking to us when He said those things, that it was just for the disciples and people around Him right then and there… The lie that we are broken people beyond fixing, and that the restlessness that we feel in the pits of our stomachs and the weight of our hearts is what we deserve for being fallen, sinful people.
Don’t live there.
Don’t wallow in that muck and believe that damning lie.
The son who turned his back on his father and spent his entire inheritance on partying, prostitutes and comfort found himself feeding muddy, fetid pigs. Day in and day out he was covered in mud and pig excrement. He definitely smelled as bad as they did. He had lost everything – squandered a small fortune on foolish, regrettable things, and the stink of his life went much deeper than clothes and skin. He lived there. He wallowed there. That pen of stench became his home for a period of time, until he came to senses. As Jesus told this story of prodigal son, I imagine some who were listening felt that he was telling their story. The prodigal son came to his senses, got up and devised a plan to return to his father. He formulated a plan in his mind, he believed he would be unwelcome to return as a son, but maybe, just maybe his father would let him return as a servant. Can you imagine that restless journey home; The endless loop of things he would finally say to his father in order to stave off the reprisals and chastisements? As each dusty step led him closer and closer to the home he once knew, thoughts of doubt and fear must have crept in. “Master, just let me work for you.” (For surely he would never be worthy to call him father after what he did).
And when this beaten-by-life man, who had squandered everything and had hit absolute rock-bottom crested that last hill, and his home was in view…he saw someone running towards him. Perhaps it was a servant instructed to chase him off. Perhaps it was a warning not to come any closer…he would have deserved such a welcome. Instead, it wasn’t any of those things…it was his father that he had wished were dead, running to embrace the son he thought he had lost.
Don’t live in the home of restlessness.
Don’t believe the lie of shame and guilt.
Be forgiven, let your Father embrace you and welcome you home…and when you are finally hope, re-tape that box and then throw it away.
The prodigal son is me.
The prodigal son is you.
But once we have been embraced,
once we have witness our Father running to us,
Once we have been forgiven and returned to our home (where we belong)
don’t even entertain the lie or the box any longer.
But sometimes…we still walk at midnight, say hello, I’ll be waving.