A reading plan for the book of Esther

Have you thought about this…

Your home is the primary learning lab for your child’s faith growth.

That’s right. In your home.

Not what they get at church once a week.
Not what they get from Vacation Bible Camp once a year.
(Though those things certainly can help.)

At home.

A boy at the dinner tableBut, have no fear! Why not use the following “reading plan” to lead your family to deeply discuss our current Rotation story, which winds it’s way through several chapters in the Old Testament book of Esther.

Read (and talk about!) our story over several days. Try it at the family dinner table or wherever your family gathers together with a few spare moments.

This reading plan needs some map work. As a kid, I loved maps! Don’t be too quick to point out places on a map. Let kids work at finding them. This looking helps cement concepts in their brain! (Such as how far it was from Susa to Jerusalem.)

Middle East Map

Read in Esther Talk about or do…
1:1-2 (chapter one, verses one and two) Do some map sleuthing. Start with a map of the world. See if they can find Michigan! Name an African country for them to find. (How about Kenya! A bunch of folks from our church will be headed there soon.) Have them find Egypt and Israel. (Clicking on a country brings up a map of that country.) Now go to this map and note the outlines of the Persian Empire. Where was the home base of King Xerxes? (verse 2). Find Susa on the map above. Bonus points: Today what country was Susa in? (Check back with the world map).
1:1-8 King Xerxes (what a fun sounding name! It’s pronounced: Zurk-seez) gave some parties! How long was one of his galas? (verse 4) What’s the longest “party” you’ve ever attended? I’m putting the word party in quotes because perhaps it’s time for the adults to tell the kids about that days long event they’ve attended in the past. What about Art Fair in Ann Arbor – that counts as a party of sorts. Have you ever been to Art Fair more than one day in a row? It’s time to tell stories about special events!
1:9-22 This queen’s name is pronounced: VASH-tee. What did Vashti do that got her banished from the kingdom? What do you think of the kings advisor’s reasoning? Do you think Queen Vashti’s action was insulting to everyone? Discuss how roles in families have changed!
2:1-10 [Adults: Read this chapter ahead of time to plan to use substitutions for some words.] Here’s another character with a strange sounding name: Mordecai is pronounced: mor-di-KI. Why do you suppose Esther hadn’t told anyone about her family origin? Look back at the map above. The homeland of Esther and Mordecai’s Jewish family was where Israel is today. (Find Jerusalem on the map.) Do you know how Jewish people ended up in Susa? (Read about the exile.)
2:11-18 How do you suppose Esther felt about being removed from her home with no choice in the matter? How do you suppose she felt about a year’s worth of “beauty care?” About winning this beauty contest? Everyone seems captivated by Esther’s beauty, but beauty, all by itself, doesn’t cause people to like you! It also takes… what? (your character and your actions!) Do you see yourself as a “beautiful” person? (God does!)
2:19-23 [Adults: Be prepared to perhaps change the wording used in this passage.] What plot did Mordecai stop? Why do you suppose it is significant that this event was recorded in “The Book of the History of King Xerxes’ Reign?” Does anything ever happen that you wish could be written down so that you could refer to it later? Just for fun, try writing down the events of one day.
3:1-6 What behavior made Haman so angry? As second-in-command to King Xerxes, Haman held a rank that required everyone to bow down to him. Does the story tell us why Mordecai wouldn’t bow down to Haman? (Not really!) We know that because Mordecai was a Jew who only bowed before God, he would have refused to bow down to Haman. How does this sort of loyalty make you feel? Is there anyone (or anything) in your life that asks you bow down to it? Bonus question: Which of the Ten Commandments was Mordecai following?
3:7-15 What does it mean to “cast lots?” (basically, to roll dice!) How did Haman surreptitiously persuade King Xerxes to issue an edict condemning the Jews in the entire Persian Empire? Check the map of Xerxes’ empire. Compare that to the map above to discover what Jewish homeland would have been included in this order-of-death decree. (Jerusalem!)

Stay tuned. More to come!

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At the supper table by Eric Peacock, who licensed this photo on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Ordinary people doing extraordinary things

Have you ever said to yourself, “I can’t do that, I’m not ____ enough.”

(Enter your word of choice: smart enough, or experienced enough, or perhaps brave enough?)

A cautious boy clings to the edge of a swimming pool

In our current Rotation on the story of Esther, I imagine that Esther herself wasn’t so keen about doing what her wise cousin Mordecai was suggesting:

Open quote markGo to the king and beg for mercy (Esther 4:8).

Surely Mordecai knew that in the kingdom of Xerxes, one didn’t just pop in to see the king without an invitation! No, no, no! That would result in certain death! Yet Esther takes that heroic, risky step.

Wow. She was brave.

But wait a minute. Esther was just an ordinary girl. Esther didn’t seem bold or courageous. Sure, she was just caught up in a strange series of events that led her to queenly status, but that was just fate. (Or was it?)

Once again. Another example: God chooses ordinary people to do his work.

We see this as a pattern in the Bible, look at all those humdrum humans carrying out amazing achievements: There are the disciples (including obscure fishermen, chosen to be Jesus’ students), and David (a lowly shepherd-boy chosen as king), and Mary (a simple, young girl chosen to birth God’s son)…

And then there’s you.

That’s right, you!

Open quote markGod can do anything you know–far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us (Ephesians 3:20).

How can you (and your family members) believe this?

It helps to have spoken reminders, both in your self-talk and in your speech to others.

Use words of expectation; expecting only good to come from you.
Offer a blessing to yourself and to those around you:

Open quote markGod envisions you as worthwhile.
Live this day fully aware of your potential.
Go out with courage! Confident of your value to God.
God is making a difference through you.


Click on a box if you would like to…
A check-box Satisfy your curiosity about why you should bless your child.
A check-box View other suggested blessings.

Photo credits: Click here for info on banner photo (not visible in readers or email). Cautious boy by Devon D’Ewart, who licensed this photo on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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January – February 2015 Schedule: The Story of Esther

Happy New Year! We start off the New Year with a Rotation on the Old Testament story of Esther.

First chapter of a hand-written scroll of the Book of Esther, with reader's pointer

The Old Testament book of Esther is a story of one woman who changed the course of history for the Jewish people. It’s a story with all the ingredients of a Disney fairy tale (or maybe a soap opera, depending on how many details you reveal in the telling). There’s a beautiful heroine, a villain, and surprising plot twists. It is a good story for family read aloud over several nights (if you paraphrase a bit for the younger set). Come join us for our story!

For Saturdays at the Green Wood location, here is the schedule…

Date Workshop or Activity
1/10  Art Workshop
1/17  Games Workshop
1/24  Cooking Workshop
1/31  Worship with your family.
2/7  To be announced.

And on Sundays, at the downtown location.

Date Our workshops for 1st through 5th graders…
Art Cooking Video Bible Skills & Games
Room 212 Social Hall Room 215 Room 211
1/11 2nd & 5th grade 3rd grade 1st grade 4th grade
1/18 1st  grade 4th grade 3rd grade 2nd & 5th grade
1/25 3rd grade 2nd & 5th grade 4th grade 1st grade
2/1 Enjoy worship and Communion with your family.
The sermon is on how to begin again: A new direction!
2/8 4th grade 1st grade  2nd & 5th grade 3rd grade

And here’s what the 6th graders will be doing this month…
(They’ll always be in the Pine Room!)

1/11 1/18 1/25 2/1
 Special cooking project  Cooking Workshop  Games Workshop Worship with your family

What’s happening in each workshop?

  • Art Workshop: Learn about how prayer ties to the story of Esther. Second through fifth graders will create prayer boxes in the shape of a pyramid out of marbleized paper and make marbleized paper for the next class to use. 1st grade will decorate a prayer box with a magnetized lid.
  • Video Workshop: Watch portions of the Veggie Tales video, Esther: The Girl Who Became Queen.
  • Cooking Workshop: Make Hamantaschen (cookies) & learn about the Jewish festival of Purim.
  • Games Workshop: Learn story details & story sequence by playing a game of Hangman. (Which is very appropriate for this story!)

On Saturday nights and on Sunday mornings at FUMC our Cool Disciples experience Rotation Model Christian education, as they learn about Bible stories and concepts through kid-friendly multimedia workshops. If you are in the area please join us for the fun learning at First United Methodist Church in Ann Arbor, MI.

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Scroll of the Book of Esther by Chefallen, who licensed this photo on Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons License.

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Today is the day

Today is the day to proclaim Epiphany! (Even though it was commemorated in church last Sunday, today, January 6th, is the officially marked day.) You may finally move your magi nativity pieces into their final resting spot — assuming that they’ve been traveling over your tablelands until now.

Three wise men approach a nativity scene

Epiphany serves as a reminder that God has come among us as a human being – God with us as Jesus. Celebrations of Epiphany traditionally are tied to the arrival of the wise men to worship Jesus.

These magi have always fascinated me. Their courage! Their fortitude! They likely traveled a thousand miles from their home in Persia or Arabia, all the way to Bethlehem — guided by an unusual star in the sky.

They followed, not knowing where they would end up.

Can we do that?

Start off on a journey not knowing where we are headed?

Graphic says - The wise step out in faith

How about your family’s faith journey (or even your own personal walk with God)?

Do you know where your journey will take you?
Do you know what you will find along the way?

Will you step out in faith… to grow your faith?

Your family is depending on you to take the lead.

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Photo credits:
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Photos are from my archives. I created the starry sky graphic from various Public Domain clip art.


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My New Year’s resolutions. And yours?

The crazy season of rushing is over. {Take a deep breath.}
Now we turn our thoughts toward the new year.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be different in the coming year.
I want to pay more attention.

It goes like this:

Big Horn Sheep at the Grand Canyon

Take something dramatic like the Grand Canyon. With no effort it registers off-the-charts: instantly recognized beauty.

Yet I easily miss the small details, which might seem like minutiae, but when exposed are equally awe-inspiring.

Details such as the fact that the Grand Canyon was formed by water and wind…

  slowly… imperceptibly…

     eroding the rock.

“Gentle waters flow over rocksWith a lack of attention I miss seeing the clout of one simple gust of breeze…

  of just one drop of water…

    whittling away…

      drip by slow drip.

I need to pay attention and focus to the level of a single water drop.

To slow down.
To always be noticing…often and regularly…

My life intertwined with the presence of God.

A collage of nature scenes

What about your New Year’s resolutions? Join me in being more intentionally aware of God with us?

Chime in with a comment below.

Happy New Year!
 — Carol

Photo credits:
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The Grand Canyon, by Marcin Wichary who licensed this photo on Flickr via a Creative Commons License.
Other photos from my archives with thanks to Tracy K. for the lower center shot of kids at the lake!

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Jesus’ birth had lots of drama

Traditional Sunday school class almost never included acting out skits. (I know. I taught for 10 years using that “old” way.) There just wasn’t enough time to squeeze in a play amongst everything else going on — the story, an art project, a game, and a snack! (Besides, a teacher just couldn’t accumulate enough bathrobes.)

Rotation.org logoThat’s what makes the Workshop Rotation Model of teaching Sunday school, unique: We devote an entire class to using various dramatic methods. The goal is not a polished production, but a fun way to learn a Bible story.

We’ve got a closet full of costumes. (We even have a cow costume!) We’ve got a stage with velvet curtains. We recruit gregarious workshop leaders (and Shepherds!) who like teaching through drama. (And who don’t mind dressing up in silly costumes and playing a few parts now and then.)

Does it work? You be the judge. Gather the family around and view the skits created in our Drama Workshop, taped during our recent Rotation on the story of the birth of Jesus.

The 2nd grade:

Can’t see the 2nd grade video? View it here on YouTube.

The 3rd grade:

Can’t see the 3rd grade video? View it here on YouTube.

The 4th grade:

Can’t see the 4th grade video? View it here on YouTube.

The 1st and the 5th graders:

Can’t see the 1st and 5th grade video? View it here on YouTube.

And our 6th graders performed for our younger kids (3 year olds through K’s)…

Can’t see this video? View it here on YouTube.

I’ll bet this prompts the kids to get out their bathrobes and a flashlight and some sunglasses!

Photo credits:
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Dramatic videos produced as a part of our current Rotation at FUMC in Ann Arbor, MI.

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A Christmas Blessing for you

{Be sure to bestow this blessing on others.}

May you have a child-like faith.

children at the Christmas eve church service
Bowled over with the wonder of it all!

Always looking for what comes next.

May you be open to explore God among us.

Peanut crèche

Perhaps Immanuel is experienced in memories — provoked by a long-ago-made ornament.

Or noticed in nature’s ornamented arrangements…

Iced over American Cranberry Bush Viburnum

May you be awed by God’s redeeming love.

a sunset on a lake creates a cross in the water

May you have a blessed Christmas!

–Love, Carol


Photo credits:
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Cross in a sunset by Rich Herrmann, who licensed this photo on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.
Other photos from my archives.

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God’s purpose? To be with us.

You can do this:  Dig deeper into the Christmas story. Ask questions at your family dinner table.

Ask the question most frequently asked by young children: Why?

I remember telling my kids when they were very young, a simple explanation for why we celebrate Christmas:

It’s Jesus’ birthday.

Birthdays are easy for kids to understand. On your child’s birthday, do they enjoy hearing the story about the day they were born? (Or perhaps the day they were adopted?) It follows that on Jesus’ birthday we tell over and over, the account of his arrival.

crèche scene

We typically hear the story from Luke – a trek to Bethlehem, rooms at capacity, a babe born amongst beasts, topped off with sojourning, wonder-struck shepherds. It always amazes me: Jesus’ first bed was an animal feeding trough, and second-string sheep-tenders were Jesus’ inaugural guests. Everyone had been on the lookout for a majestic monarch, yet God slipped into our world as a defenseless little baby.

Why did the story happen this way?

What were God’s intentions? When we dig deeper, and read in Matthew, we reveal God’s purpose:

quotation marks  She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:22-23)

Immanuel, means in Hebrew:  “with us is God.” Ah! A glimpse at God’s motive.

Jesus was sent to be God with us!

Ready for some family discussion surrounding Immanuel / God-with-us?


  Start off reading together Matthew 1:18-24.

A long time ago, God quietly came to earth via his son Jesus. Most people in those days didn’t recognize Jesus as their long-waited-for Savior. What about these days, do you suppose people recognize God-with-us today?

What are some ways that God makes his presence known to us?
a magnifying glass
  What can make it hard to “see” God?

How can we help others to notice God with us?

Back in Bible times it seemed that God was more overt in his communication with people. For instance, in our current Rotation on Jesus’ birth story, there are lots of “angels of the Lord.” One named Gabriel, visited Mary, whereas Joseph had two angelic visits in his dreams. And the shepherds… they got a sky-full!

Angels made by the younger kids at church

What evidence of God have you seen lately?

What about that bird perched just so, on the snow-covered branch…

A Cardinal in a tree

To me nature-happenings are a sort of message from God. He says, “Slow down. Take notice. Isn’t what I’ve created intricate and amazing? I created you too. Oh, what a beautiful job I did! Do you see that little bird? The one perched outside your window? I care about him. I care about you!”

God is with us. In what ways will you look for his presence?


Photo credits:
Click here for info on banner photo (not visible in readers or email).
Other photos are from my archives.

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