Friday, September 16, 2011

Tough Mudder--Pursuing Goals

Lots of new changes this year for Tara and I (sounds a little bit like every year:).  Back at the holidays, the calendar was getting ready to turn over to 2011, and Tara and I were talking through our goals for this year.  One of the goals I put down was to train for some kind of running/challenge event.  Fitness has been a regular part of our lives since we've been married, but I have never been a runner.  This was going to be something new and out of my comfort zone.

Back a few months, our staff at Grace decided to do the Tough Mudder event together.  It's a 12 mile race that includes like 20 extreme obstacles--such as, running through a field of fire, jumping off a cliff into 37 degree water, climbing over hills, crawling face down in mud under barbwire and lots of other neat ideas some sick people have come up with.  The scariest part for me was the running, because I had never run more than 3.5 miles at one time.  We've been training for a few months already and it's been fun to be able to add distance each week.  Most of my teammates have run half-marathons or full marathons before, so I've had a lot of good coaching and challenging from them.  Each time I get done, I feel like I could keep running more.  It's cool how God made our bodies to work when we discipline them.

This morning we ran a 7 mile run together, using headlamps and flashlights because it was still dark when we started.  It included running upstream on a creek that ranged from ankle to waist high deep water.  What a blast!  It wasn't quite 37 degrees, but still good training for what we'll do come November 20.

Pick up the OT and read Joshua--it's all about this man and people who did things they hadn't done before.  It's inspiring and it's powerful.  God may be calling you to trust Him to walk into new territory right now.  Go for it!  "Be strong and courageous!"--Joshua 1:7

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Daily Audio Bible for Kids

One of my buddies in small group has been listening to a Bible app on his phone lately while he reads it.  In fact, I got a text from him early this morning that simply read "What does 'they hamstrung their horses' mean?"  Our small group is reading through Joshua in the Bible right now, and I had read that part yesterday, so I knew what he was asking about--otherwise, I'd probably have been confused by such a question.

Church research shows over and over that after a period of time, if a Christian doesn't begin a discipline of personal time with God reading the Bible and praying, their growth stalls and they become stagnant.  It's just not enough to come to church and let someone else "feed" us--we need to learn to feed ourselves or we'll starve.

Why not help your child begin a daily habit while they are still young?  I recently came across a really cool tool for kids (mostly 8-12 year olds are using it, but whole families could, too) at  A ten year old, China, and her brother, Max, read a portion of Scripture every day and your student can listen to it while following along.  Today, I listened to Galatians 1:1-24--pretty cool.  You can also listen to iShine Christian music, join a social network side to it if you want to become a member, and it's all monitored by a real Christian mom:)

Maybe it could be the way they spend their first 5 minutes on the computer each day before they are allowed to look at any other site--just an idea!  Check it out today.  (By the way, my buddy later texted me a definition of what hamstringing a horse is--I'm pretty sure I could never do that.  I don't even like to go in the 4H barn where the calves are being born, but that's just me.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Kids Lunches

I'm a horrible blogger (which is obvious since I haven't blogged since May) but I want to try again to get started.  I promise I'll do better this time;)

Yesterday, I ate lunch with a 3rd grader from Grace at Orchard View Elementary (thanks, again, for the mini pancakes, Megan:))  I love eating lunch with our kids, because I get to know them and their world in a different way than I can in Kid City.  I even got to interact with a Muslim boy yesterday and hopefully was able to share Jesus' love with him.  Today, I was reading a magazine article ("K Magaizine") about new technology being used in public schools.  Apparently, 5 schools in Texas piloted a program last spring that was able to take digital pictures of a student's tray of food before and after they ate and then report to their parents how many calories they're eating and what healthy options are being left on the tray.

It's a cool idea for sure, well advanced from the lunchroom experience I remember as a kid, but do we need to invest billions of education dollars to let us in on the big secret that today's kids eat too much junk food?  Is that really news to anyone?  Instead of re-analyzing a problem we already know about, we would better use our time and resources to help find a solution!!

That is a lesson for life.  Choose today to stop re-diagnosing all the problems with our lives, our spouses, our kids, our communities, our world, and let's start working and praying for solutions.  Are you a solution focused person?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Coaching the Kids

Like many parents these days, we are spending some time at the local little league or soccer fields.  It's  a lot of fun.  Not only do I enjoy hanging out with all the kids on our team, but it's a great way to build new friendships with the parents, and shine Jesus' light onto others.  Ethan and Elisha play tee-ball for the Grizzlies, and Elli plays softball for the Bandits!

Ethan asked me the other day what college he should play for when he's older...then he asked me if Tara and I will move to wherever he plays professionally, so we can still watch him:)  That's confidence!!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Learning from Other Churches

Over the last 12 years or so that I have been in children's ministry, the greatest ways to learn have been from other churches.  I just can't understand why Christians and churches would ever put each other down--it certainly doesn't please Jesus and it gets in the way of building His kingdom.  I love visiting other churches when I get a chance to talk with the kids, dialogue with the staff, and just observe whatever I can.  It doesn't mean that I'm going to take everything I see back to my home church or agree with every belief another church has, but there is something to learn from a church that God is blessing.

I was in Dallas this past week for a leadership conference (Catalyst) and CE National Board Meetings.  Yesterday morning I got to go to Fellowship Church in Grapevine, TX--FC Kids has thousands of kids in their ministries on the weekend!  I had a great time hanging out with one of their assistant Children's Pastors and gaining some fresh ideas of how to reach the hearts of kids and parents in today's culture.  Thanks to Fellowship, Alisha, and all their kids for their great hospitality!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Thank You Church Janitors Everywhere!

Being a Children's Pastor is a risky enterprise.  Like teachers or pediatricians (or just your average mom), you're around germs all the time, so you're way more likely to get sick than the average human being.  Without doing any research or data gathering, I'm going to estimate that a Children's Pastor is 68% more likely to catch a cold than the average adult in America.  Every year I can count on, at least, one bout with Pink Eye, but I'm getting off point of this entry...

Being a Children's Pastor is a risky enterprise for many reasons, but one main reason is they are Public Enemy #1 of church janitors all across this nation!  I can hear the church janitors yelling now, "Why is there glitter all over the floor?  Wasn't that banned by the church last year?"  "Do the kids eat any of the goldfish they are given, because I just swept up a whole bag full and put them back in the cupboard!"  "Whose idea was it to give the kids silly string?"  "But it was a great illustration of how lies turn into a web that smothers us," answers the CP, ducking for cover around the corner as the silly string comes flying across the room...

CP's need to send "thank you's" to the church cleaning team more often then they do, because they are often the ones left to clean up after a weekend of high-energy, over the top creative, kingdom of darkness battle axing ministry in the children's area.  Thankfully, at Grace, we have an awesome team of Jeff, Jana, and many others that serve our church this way week after week.  They do an awesome job of putting our rooms back together for the next round, and they do their job as unto the Lord.  They are an integral part of our team, and they don't complain as I described in the (not so fictitious) stories above, so from all of us in children's ministries everywhere, "Thank you, to Jeff, Jana, and your posses!"

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Power of Forgiveness

We had a very moving service in Kid City this past weekend.  We're talking about forgiveness this month--a crucial skill/attitude for anyone to learn.  Adults and children that talk with me in counseling situations are hurting for all kinds of reasons--the wide array of all the situations is endless.  However, most of those people aren't able to get past whatever happened because of some slight or major issue with forgiveness (either with themselves or someone else).  Learning to forgive is that big!

We've talked about that with the students the past few weeks.  First, we made a mental list of all the things God forgives us for.  Once we realize how long that list is and how much we hurt God, it makes it a little easier to choose to not make someone else pay for what they've done to hurt us.  This past Sunday we took a fresh look at the story of Zacchaeus from Luke 19--how when Jesus forgave this man, it drastically changed his life.  Someone who was so greedy before was now extremely generous!  We challenged them to realize that if we choose to forgive someone, it might change them, too!  We closed each service giving the students a chance to think of the people/person hardest for them to forgive, to write their name down on a slip of paper, to offer a prayer to God for help to forgive, and then drop it in a bucket as a symbol of letting go of the unforgivness toward that person. 

Not all the students got up--some just sat in their seat and watched, perhaps, because they are good forgivers already or, perhaps, because they weren't ready to forgive.  But many were willing to come forward--some with tears because they have been really hurt by family or peers, but they were ready to try forgiveness.  Perhaps, you could be inspired by their young faith to choose to not make someone pay for how they have hurt you.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Give Kids a Chance

I spend my Monday lunch break hanging out with boys in our local schools.   It's rewarding because it's the one chance I get to just hang out with kids and not have to be in charge of any program or anyone else--my mind and heart can just focus on the boys.  I have found over the years that not only do I get to influence the student I am assigned to, but also his buddies who want to be around me as well.

Last week in Kid City, one of those classmates showed up in the 4th grade room.  Bryce couldn't believe I was a pastor (kids don't usually ask you what your job is) and worked at a church, but he was excited to see me.  In fact, the next day at school he told the whole class about our church and what he had learned (how Jesus died on the cross and what it all meant!!).  He came back this past week on Easter, so I pulled him and another 4th grader in to the large group room before we got started and asked if they would be my stage helpers for the day.   I have learned over the years that people feel a sense of worth when someone believes in them enough to ask them to do what they view as an important task.  All Bryce and Josiah did was to move stuff around on stage before and after games and hand me props when I needed them, but it made a huge difference.  Later that afternoon at the Easter Egg Hunt, Bryce brought his mom over to meet me.  Before he walked away, he leaned in and whispered, "Thanks for letting me help today--that was really cool."

I saw the same look in his eye that I probably had in my eye when one of my professors/mentors at Cedarville, Cheryl Fawcett, asked me to look over a talk she was giving at a conference, because she wanted to know if I thought it flowed well and made sense.  I couldn't believe she was asking for my advice and felt so honored.  (Looking back, I know now she didn't really need it, but she was pouring confidence into me.)  I'll say it again, "People feel a sense of worth when someone believes in them enough to ask the do what they view as an important task."

It's a simple truth, but the more you let your kids know that you believe in them, you'll begin to see positive stuff come out of them you'd never expected.  Bend over to get on their eye level, put your hand on the shoulder, and say, "Hey, I need your help today.  I don't think I can do everything I need to on my own.  Do you think you can ___________?"  Try it--often, kids just need a chance.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Trying to Take it All In

God has moved wave after wave over the last week at Grace, and I'm just trying to take it all in and appreciate it all today.  Last Sunday we collected an offering of $57, 216.00 to build a home for our orphans (no more) in Cambodia--in one day!!  During the week we boxed up 2,416 pairs of and shipped them to Japan via Soles for Souls.  On Friday, we connected with Jesus on a unique level through communion.  I took some pictures, but they're kind of dark--anyway, Jesus said we would blessed for keeping communion and we were.

Then yesterday was Easter!  We had over 700 kids in our kids' ministries yesterday!  We celebrated the resurrection of Jesus; kids gave their hearts to Him--it was incredible!  I was in the middle of it so I didn't get a chance to snap any photos, but I took this one from our balcony of one of the adult services--each person who wanted to accept Jesus flipped a light switch and turned on a light signifying what was happening in their heart.  As you can see, there were so many it just looks like one big light! I think there were 98 total adult decisions.

That wasn't even the end of the day.  Afterward, we had our Easter Egg Hunt.  I don't know how many people were there, but it was packed.  I snapped a shot of the field that Ethan and Elisha were on--this was just the kids age 5 through 1st Grade.  Our Blue Crew got to mingle with so many people from the community.  Ethan and Elli both had classmates at the hunt who we prayed for last night and will invite back to church.  God blew us away again.

I say all this to give praise to God and to help myself not go the next thing without thanking Him first.  I also say this to shout out loud that God still moves through the local church, which is the hope of the world!  I hope you jump in and are a part of all that God is doing in our world.  If not, you may miss out on the very thing you were made for!!

Monday, April 18, 2011

What the Cross Means for Kids

Yesterday in Kid City we talked about the ultimate sacrifice Jesus made on the cross for each of us.  I wanted the kids to really try and process it.  As I talked about the events on that day in history, I passed around rough ropes like the ones that would have been used to tie Jesus up, crowns of thorns like the ones Jesus would have worn, and large nails like the ones that would have been used to hold Him on the cross.

I don't believe there was anything scary presented, and none of the kids showed any fear.  But you should have seen the intensity in some of their eyes.  My goal was to use the sensory learning skills that we all possess, so they could remember this for a long time.  (Like how you can remember the way something felt or smelled years later.)  I wanted the kids to feel some of what Jesus felt, so they could try and grasp how horrible our sin is and the great price Jesus paid.

We closed the morning with the kids taking paper and crayons and writing down their response to what Jesus did for them.  Some of them wrote one word answers like "Grateful" or "Thanks."  Others wrote sentence prayers describing their feelings, and some sketched out pictures to express their emotions.  Then they brought those up front and stapled them to a cross we had in the front of our theatre as a way to honor Christ.  It was a pretty cool morning as many young hearts were stirred in true worship of their Savior.  Can you believe that we all can be forgiven of everything in our past and future because one perfect God-Man sacrificed Himself for us?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Parenting is Hard!

One of the roles I have at our church is meeting with all the potential members coming into our church.  It can be really rewarding hearing all the stories of how God's grace has changed the lives of so many people.  He really is an awesome God!
Yesterday, I talked with two different families--both remarkable stories of grace and both hurting because of  choices made by their adult children.  All of these parents would admit they weren't perfect, but both of them were godly in their parenting and tried to do things the right way.  We can't control our kids and the choices they make--although we wish we could.  It's so rewarding when they follow God, but it's equally devastating when they don't.  Take a moment to pray for the parents and kids you know whose relationship is strained because someone is walking away from God.  There is always hope--no person is EVER too far from God's reach (see Luke 15)!

Monday, April 11, 2011

You can NEVER Outgive God

I had the chance to preach in the adult services yesterday at Grace--something I enjoy, although I must admit I miss seeing the kids.  We're in the middle of a series on Giving, so I shared from the Bible how God will take care of all our needs, which allows us to be generous with our resources, knowing He's got our backs.

God showed Himself faithful again!  After church, our family had lunch together, and I sat on the couch with the boys to watch the Phillies and take a nap before small group.  Tara ran to a store to get some things, including Easter candy so we could fill our family's eggs for our church's upcoming Easter Egg Hunt.   While there, she struck up a conversation with a man buying candy for his nieces and nephews.  She invited him and his family to the egg hunt and to visit our church some time.  He shared he would be out of town on Easter, but he was very moved and, out of nowhere, whipped out a $50.00 bill as a donation toward the hunt!  Then, when they were standing in line, his receipt popped up a $5 off coupon, which he passed to Tara behind him for the candy she was buying!  We ended up paying practically nothing for our candy to fill the eggs for the hunt, and Grace can get extra prizes for the 3,000+ kids coming!  God always does that sort of thing!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Kids Need More than One Voice

Here's a homework assignment for every parent and children's ministry leader.  Sit and watch 30 minutes of TV with your kids, listen to 30 minutes of music with them on a "kid" station, or play 30 minutes of the current popular video game.  Popular media has learned something that Christians would do well to learn as well.  Multiple inputs of information/influence have a much more profound impact than just one!

During that 30 minutes of homework you're doing, listen to the messages being conveyed.  "You deserve the best!"  "This will make you popular and happy!" "Everyone who is anyone has this or is doing this!"  "You can do anything if you just try your best!" and other culturally popular agendas like them come through loud and clear.  The trouble is, these messages are flat out wrong and will destroy the life of whoever chases after them.

Here's the good news!  The same strategy of multiple inputs from popular media can also be used by Christians for incredibly positive results in a kids' life!  Know why?  It was God's design!

God knows that your kids will be dramatically influenced more when they hear the same message over and over, so He designed families and churches to work together to bring up a godly generation.  It doesn't work if you just drop your kids off at church to let them take care of the "God thing."  And it doesn't work if you as parents think you can teach your kids everything they need to know about God.  Both of those extremes are harmful.  Our kids need godly families and a relevant church!

So, 1) turn down the influence of popular media in your kids' lives.  We don't hide our kids from everything out there, so they look and feel like social freaks around friends (I know a few Christians like that, and it's not a pretty sight), but we do set limits on how much and what they are exposed to.  Media is not the best baby-sitter (even though as a parent, I know how tempting it is), because it does affect how your kids think and view the world.

And, 2) turn up the influence of godly people in your kids' lives.  For instance, why don't you start looking for the teachable moments when you can bring God into your kids' worldview.  Also, make sure your kids are plugged in to a relevant, Bible-centered church ministry where others can speak and model truth in front of your kids, too.  Reggie Joiner is famous for rightly saying that every parent needs another godly adult to say the same things they say to their kids.  I'm so glad my kids have other people from our church pouring into them.  Here is a picture that two of Elli's favorite Kid City leaders sent to me after church last week!  Where else but church can you be influenced for Jesus and get wrapped up in a carpet like a taco? :)

These are two pivotal ideas that Christan parents must do in order for their kids to be life-long followers of the Way.  Now, go back and take in another 30 minutes of media with your kids, so you're not that socially freaky Christian!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

New Inspiration

The past month or more I have been in a bit of a creative lull (hence not blogging).  It seems I've had to struggle for every little ounce of creativity coming out, but some fresh reading, continued time with God, and challenged thinking has me starting to go again.

What's more is that I've had the privilege of watching God move in the lives of kids--something that always inspires me.  In Kid City this month, we're talking about ways we can live our lives as if other people are more important than we are...humility.  In big church this month, we're talking about giving, which is in the same vein.

On Sunday our adults were challenged to give their shoes they were wearing to be sent to the people of Japan who are homeless (and many shoeless) right now because of the devastation presently there.  Last night the kids that made it to Phase 2 rubber banded all the shoes together in preparation for shipping.  One student even put his dollar inside his shoe "so a Japanese boy could get something special for himself!"  That is putting someone's needs ahead of your own, the kind of gesture that I know makes our Father proud!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Just Say "Yes"

I haven't been very disciplined to blog lately, but I wanted to get something out there today for parents and anyone who hangs out with kids.

Some time last year, I realized that when my kids asked me for permission to do something, my first response was to say "no."  This was for many reasons--I wanted them to be safe, I didn't want to be bothered at the time, I didn't want to spend the money, etc.  (Honestly, it was probably the middle reason more times than not.)   There are all kinds of good reasons to say "no" to lots of ideas kids come up with.  Adults do have responsibilities to care for that keep them busy, but when I realized that was my automatic response most of the time, I knew I had a problem.

I was at a PTO thing at our elementary school recently and was talking to another dad who shared that he is the exact same way, so it got me thinking more about it.  Hearing "no" all the time can be defeating to a child, so once I realized this about myself, I tried to change.  When my kids at home or the kids at church come up with an idea to try, I try to make my first response "yes" and think through how we could do it.  How about you?  Would you like to just say "yes" to your kids more often?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Our Kids are Getting It!

It was cool to hear some awesome stories from the kids this past weekend of how they are taking the Kindness Challenges.  Erica shared how she's showing kindness to a friend by talking to her about God; Jocelyn said that she sat at lunch with a girl who always sits by herself, and now she has a new friend; Derick's mom called me on Monday to share how moved he was by the challenge.  Even though he wasn't one of the students to get the $20, he was thinking of using his money to do something similar.  He explained this to her in tears on the drive home from Grace, because just the day before he had been so mad at another boy for picking on him, and now he wanted to show unexpected kindness to that boy!!
God has been showing up in our Kid City services over the past few weeks as kids have been challenged to really live out their faith and have stepped up.  This past Sunday, we talked about using our words to show kindness.  They were all challenged to SAY kind things this week to others unexpectedly.  As a bonus challenge, they were dared to use their words to share their faith and invite someone to church on Sunday.  I'm excited to see what happens this week!

Monday, February 14, 2011

My Valentine

I was thinking about Tara this weekend, knowing that Valentine’s Day was coming up, and a thought really struck me.  There is no one in the world that I know more about than Tara, and there is no one else in the world that knows more about me than her.

In a world that tempts us to think that newer is always better, that happiness will come with the latest model, and that we should always just live for the moment, it’s actually nice to have that constant, steady source of love and comfort.  The truth is that both Tara and I are always changing, so it doesn’t have to get boring.  She and I are two different people from the ones who got married almost 12 years ago.  We’ve grown as individuals, gone deeper in our faith, taken on new ideas and values, pursued different education and ministries, become parents, and have adjusted as parents already several times.  The cool thing is we’ve done it all together, and there is something about that which can’t be replaced.

Tara and I love to laugh at ourselves.  We have so many inside jokes that no one else would ever fully grasp, and I love that.  Elli says we laugh and whisper all the time, and she wants to know what’s so funny.  Hopefully, one day, she will be able to know, too.  Here’s a picture from us in college—a bunch of friends went out on a group date together.  Our first stop was at Goodwill where we all bought our dates the outfits  they had to wear the rest of the night—it was so much fun, and we were so mean to other:)

The memories you make together are a photo album that stick with you forever—I can picture different moments in our life together and still remember how I felt, what was happening, what the smells were, and all that stuff.  I don’t want to share that album with anyone else but you, honey.  Thanks for being My Valentine!

Friday, February 11, 2011

3 Filters for Helping Kids Say Kind Words

How many times as a parent have you wanted to crawl in a hole because of something your child said to someone else?  I know that feeling pretty well.   Although, I try to extend grace to my kids, realizing they are what they are--kids!  Not too long ago my 5 year old son, Ethan, was talking to my mom on the phone about her mom, Ethan's great-grandmother.  Ethan thought she was about 40 and was pretty old:)  (With every birthday like the one I celebrated yesterday, I am amazed at how close to "old" I am getting:)  When my mom corrected him and said that Great-grandma was actually 93, Ethan couldn't believe it, adding, "Wow--she's really old. She'll probably die really soon."  Oh, the candidness of kids...

This month we are focusing on Kindness at our church with our elementary age students.  A mom sent me a great little article that a woman wrote about teaching her kids how to use our mouths properly.  I thought it was incredible and will definitely re-use some of her thoughts with my own kids as well as the students in our church.

Whenever her kids would say something that offended someone else, she would have them use these 3 filters to see if what they said was appropriate:

Was it true?
Was it kind?
Was it necessary?

If it met all three criteria, there was no harm.  Often, her kids would see where their words fell short of one of the marks.  Sometimes we blatantly lie.  Other times, we say something that might be true, but we don't say it kindly, or we might say it at a time where it wasn't necessary.

What great questions for kids (and adults) to run through our minds before we open our mouths!  BTW--my grandmother is still very involved in life at 93 and is one of my greatest prayer warriors!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Kindness Challenge--Week 1

Yesterday, we introduced the theme of Kindness in Kid City for the month of February.  One of our goals for the year at Grace Community Church is to be the kindest church in the whole world.  (I know, it's not incredibly measurable, but what an awesome goal!)  We looked at Jesus' teaching in Luke 6 where He challenged His followers to be kind, even to enemies and people they didn't know.  You see, being kind to people who will be kind back to us is normal--that's typical.  Jesus wants us to go outside of the norm and show love and kindness to those who don't expect it from us!

The challenge for every child in our church was to eat lunch or play at recess this week with someone they have never done it with before.  I challenged them to nicely ask these other children if they could sit with them at lunch or play with them at recess.  If those weren't options for them, I encouraged them to ask their parents permission to have a child from their community over to play at their home this week (again, someone they have never had over before). 

We also gave a special challenge to one of our older students in 5th or 6th grade.  I gave 3 different students $20 each to show kindness this week in some way to someone God brings in their path using the money.

Next week, we'll get to hear stories from all the students who took the challenges and see how God uses it in their life and the others they touch.  We're praying for loads of God-sightings--should be exciting!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Kids can Experience Holy Spirit Moments

Almost every fast-food restaurant these days offer a Junior size of their best sandwiches and sides--something for the kids or for those wanting to watch their calorie intake.  (What's funny about that is the current Junior size is probably the original size of the sandwich itself before we decided we needed to eat a half-pound of meat to be satisfied, but that's another story:) 

I tell you this to explain something about the Holy Spirit.  1 Corinthians 12:13 says that we are all placed into the Body of Christ by the same Holy Spirit.  That means that children don't receive a Junior-sized Holy Spirit--they receive all of Him and His power--just as much as adults.  Sometimes, we underestimate what can happen through the life of Holy-Spirit filled kids.  I don't want to be in that boat.

In February, our kids at Grace will be challenged in the area of Kindness.  Would you pray that there are awesome, mind-blowing, Holy Spirit, breakthrough moments each Sunday?  We want to see God show up in amazing ways so that kids, parents, and volunteers can't wait to see what God will do next.  I have been thinking through and praying about practical challenges to give the students each week to live out their faith in the area of kindness--I'm excited to see what God will do each week through them, and I'm also excited to hear the stories from the kids as we'll be giving time to hear testimonies.

I'll keep you updated as to what happens each Sunday.  Please take moments to pray over this month for God to move...

Monday, January 31, 2011

Funny Things Kids Say--Elisha Edition

My youngest son, Elisha, is our family comedian.  He's only 4, but he's adds a lot of fun to our house.

Lately, he's been sticking his hands under cold water at the bathroom sink to make them nice and chilly before sneaking up on Tara and putting them on her back so she screams.  It's hard to correct him when your chuckling yourself.  He also likes to tickle her stomach when she's standing next to the boys' bed at night to pray with Ethan, who is on the top bunk.

On Saturday we went sledding as a family and Elisha accidentally hit a girl with his sled at the bottom of the hill.  We talked about it yesterday at lunch--here's his take on it.  "Dad, do you remember when I hit that girl with the sled and she started crying?"  ("Um, yes, I do son--it just happened yesterday," I thought.)  "She didn't move out of my way--that wasn't very so smart."

"I think I need some help," said Elisha (see picture), after he came downstairs last night after being "asleep" for an hour.

Got to love it.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ages 18-22 Make or Break

Perhaps you know the staggering data that suggests that 70-80% of students walk away from their faith after high school.  That number can be overwhelming, and a lot of factors are involved.  Perhaps, you are a parent of one of those students who have walked away or maybe, you are one of those people who walked away from your faith for a time.  There is always hope.  Obviously, we want to pour God into our kids, and I mentioned some vital steps to doing that yesterday.

But here is some more good news.  I was at an Orange Tour event this fall (something for ministry leaders) and heard some very insightful research that had been done.  “Among young adults ages 23-30 who stayed in church during ages 18-22, only 6 percent do not currently attend church.”

Let me break that down for you.  While most kids are walking away from God after high school, those that are staying connected from ages 18-22 will most likely continue to be life-long Christ-followers--94% of them, in fact.  So, a very critical age is 18-22.  As parents and church leaders, we must concentrate hard on effective ways to keep our young adults connected to Jesus during the years when they are making such major life-altering decisions.  What person in that age category can you help connect to God right now?  Give them a call, connect with them on Facebook, invite them out for a chat--push them towards Jesus!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Evidence of God Stirring in a Child

A few weeks ago on a Friday afternoon,  I got a visit from a little boy in our church.  He and his mom had been getting some supplies ready for our pre-school ministry that Sunday.  They had been driving into the church and he kept asking his mom questions about God, about heaven, and other spiritual matters.  Before she knew it, she asked him if he had wanted to talk to Jesus himself and ask Him to come into his life.  When he said "yes," she was thrilled and couldn't believe she was getting this opportunity to lead her son into a personal relationship with Jesus!  How awesome when a parent has that privilege.  Over the past month here at Grace, I've heard from several parents who have recently had an experience like this or who have had questions about how to know when their child would be ready.

I usually explain that our number one goal as parents or children's ministry leaders is to help our kids have a relationship with God--that's the bottom line!  Over helping them become a successful adult and learning to live wisely, we should desperately want our kids connected to the One who can help them do all those other things.  However, every person is on their own spiritual journey, and no parent can completely dictate when their child will have a personal faith of their own, so we need to be sensitive to the leading of the Spirit.

There are definite things we can do to encourage faith in children like praying with them, modeling a passionate, Spirit-led life in front of them, reading the Scriptures to them, and having them involved in a church where they will see God is alive and at work.   Those are crucial steps we must prioritize over everything else we do for our children.

When a child starts asking spiritual questions, I take that as a major sign that God is at work there.  Romans 3:10 states that no person seeks after God on their own, so if a person is asking questions, that is evidence of God at work in their hearts.  In fact, in John 6:44, Jesus says that no one will come to God unless he/she is being drawn by God.  So, again, when a child (or adult) starts asking questions about God or spiritual matters, that is evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in their lives.

Then, it is time for us to really engage them with the Gospel and clearly give them a chance to respond to Jesus' invitation to make Him leader of their lives.  When you see God moving, don't wait around--jump on that chance and see what happens.

I will often ask probing questions to children (my own and children from our church) to see where they are with God.  If there is no interest, I just take that as a sign they're not there yet.  If they are interested and say things like, "I think about that a lot," then I know God is at work, and I join Him in that effort.  There is no greater joy in life than helping another person put their name in the Book of Life.  I'll don't think I'll ever get tired of that privilege--and neither should you!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Why? Why? Why?

Have you ever had to explain something to a child?  They ask you, "Why?" a lot, right?  In fact, they usually ask that more than once in the same conversation.  They really are trying to understand the world around them.

In church on Sunday, I showed a clip from Despicable Me where Gru gives rules to the adopted girls that have come to live with him.  He's not much of a kid person, so his rules don't make any sense to them.  They wonder how they can live without "touching anything" or "making any sounds."  Obviously, he had a lot to learn.  (By the way, most of the kids quoted each word of the scene while it was playing--I guess lots of homes got this as a Christmas gift this year:).

My reason for showing the clip was to  compare Gru to God, Who has given us lots of wisdom to live by in the Bible.  When we follow God's "rules," life goes well for us.  When we stray away from them, we get into trouble.  Unlike Gru's rules, God's rules make sense.  There is thoughtful, loving reasoning behind each law He gives us to follow.  That's why I'm willing to follow Him, because His way really is best for my life.

This is so important when thinking through boundaries and rules for our kids.  If you have weird rules that don't make any sense, as your kids get older, they will see right through them and be frustrated.  Be willing to explain the reasoning behind them and be open to dialogue on the matter.  This is a conversational generation we are raising, and they're not just being disrespectful.  Dialogue is an important value to them.  If you want respect, be willing to give respect as well.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King Day always reminds me of our need as Christ-followers to cross over racial and ethnic barriers to learn from and love each other.  Jesus certainly did that when He was alive--He elevated other ethnic groups, women, children,etc--He always reached across divides that others wouldn't approach.

Here we are 2,000 years after Jesus life, decades after King's life, and sadly, today in America one of the most segregated hours all week long is Sunday morning!  Our schools and work-places are integrated (because we're forced to) but our churches are not, and I believe with all my being that this grieves God's heart...

Tara and I have had the privilege of living in culturally diverse communities, and it can be a beautiful thing.  We even get to live in a diverse family as you can see above in the picture with my kids and their cousins.  When we were moving from Philadelphia to Goshen six years ago, one of the reasons we chose the neighborhood we live in is because we knew our kids would be in a diverse school with diverse cultures.  I think every person at some time in their life needs to live in a different culture--whether it's on a short-term project or a long-term move--people need to get away from their cultural roots long enough to learn about other ways to live life.  Whether that's an African-American understanding Asian culture or a white American living in a place where they are the minority.  Your whole world-view will change when you learn to walk in someone else's shoes.  (Sounds like something Jesus did--see Philippians 2.)  That's why we take our 5th graders from our church on a week-long mission trip each year--they need to experience and see God move in another part of the map. 

Two Saturday nights ago, our family had the privilege of having dinner with two families who are brand new to our community.  They had to get away from their situations in Atlanta and Chicago and come to a safe place to start over--these families were from different parts of the country and different ethnic groups.  It was good for our kids to play and talk with their kids--you know, laughs and giggles all sound the same no matter the language or color of skin.  It was good for Tara and I to rub shoulders with and serve these moms who need some of heaven's grace right now.  Look for ways like this to live out your faith in front of your kids and teach them that God loves everyone the same.  Why wait 'til heaven to be part of the mosaic God is painting today?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Are your kids touch-starved?

Last night Tara and Ethan (above) left for a mommy/son trip to Pennsylvania for a cousin's wedding.  Ethan was especially excited because he was taking along our DVD of the Phillies' run to the World Series in 2008 to watch in its entirety in the car!  Such a thing would never be allowed under normal circumstances by his brother or sister, so he was pumped.  My love for baseball and the Phillies has definitely been passed down to this guy:)

Before he left, he came over about four different times to give me a hug.  It was a reminder for me of the high value of touch between human beings and the powerful messages communicated by it.  Without a word, he was revealing love and the fact he would miss me.  Touch is powerful.

In fact, I heard a news blip this morning that super high tech ultrasound research now shows twins reaching out to grasp hands in their mom's womb at 14 weeks!  From our earliest days, God put something inside of us that craves physical interaction and connection.  There is much concern over the amount of physical and sexual abuse happening today in our world.  Without any care, predators are sending shocking messages of pain to kids everywhere.  This has caused many caring adults to become paralyzed and avoid appropriate forms of touch altogether.  No touch or little touch can be just as damaging.

I noticed this morning in Luke 5:13 (yes, small group, I did my reading for today) that Jesus reached his hand out to touch a man with leprosy and heal him.  This man who had been touch-starved because of his horrible disease received both healing and love from Jesus.  Can you imagine the joy welling up inside this man who hadn't been shown that form of love in a long time?

Make sure you give plenty of hugs, kisses, hi-fives, shoulder squeezes, and other forms of appropriate touch to the kids around you.  If it's not something that comes naturally to you, then make it a new habit.  Set a goal to give 5 appropriate touches to kids around you each day, and then grow from there.  They need it...and so do you.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Awesome Impact of our Words

I have been contemplating starting a blog for a few years now and after some prompting from others, it became one of my new goals and challenges for 2011, so here we go...

This morning I was reminded of the incredible power our words have for good.  I was reading a book where the author recalled something one of his elementary teachers had said to him as a child.  My mind began racing back through my own life and I could picture a number of scenes where someone poured courage and confidence into me.  One moment, in particular, stood out.  I was sitting at a local restaurant, The China Gate, back in Lebanon, PA with my varsity baseball coach, George.  I was a senior in high school, still young in my new faith, and I was sharing with him what my next steps were following high school.  In that little restaurant, amidst all the Americanized Chinese decor and the placemat telling me I was born in the year of the duck, I remember him looking at me in the eye and saying, "I believe God has big plans in store for Jon Rauch."  All these years later, I can still feel the sense of confidence and courage that statement poured into me at that time in my life--in fact, I was choked up this morning thinking about it.  George probably didn't realize then (or even, now) the impact that dinner would have on an 18 year old heading out in the world.

You and I probably don't realize the awesome impact our words today might have on a child or adult.  Above is a picture of my precious little Elli--she is a real gem, and I hope she knows how proud I am to be her daddy.  Take time to seek out a kid in your life, put your hands on their shoulders, and let them know you believe in them.  Throw in a little sweet and sour chicken, and you might affect their life forever...