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.

Are you seeing ads? They are not from me! They are placed by WordPress, who otherwise offers a free platform from which to share lots of good-ness. If you see an inappropriate ad, please report it to support@wordpress.com. Include the URL, the date/time the ad appeared, and a screenshot of the ad.

How to find time for God in the midst of Advent chaos?

Are you feeling it yet? The rat-race turmoil, leaning towards a muddled mess?

“A dance of light rays

It must be Advent. (Or it could be in the midst of chaos of any season.)

How can we find time for peace?
How can we find time for God?

Pastor Nancy Lynn at FUMC in Ann Arbor, MI had some ideas in her sermon last week. (The transcript and podcast are not up yet, but will be soon I’m sure.)

Let’s review Nancy’s ideas. (And is it okay if I build on them?)Split rocks in the woods

  • Go out and notice something in nature. (Even if it’s just a bunch of rocks.) Set a recurring timer (to go off when it will be okay to be interrupted). When it rings, go for a daily walk. Find a truly beautiful article. Allow yourself to fill with awe. Yes! God made this!
  • Take time for prayer. (Be like Jesus?) How about a different way of praying? Breath prayer: This sort of prayer brings yourself to quiet rest. Start by relaxing (do your best!). Focus on your breath. Silently recite a word (or words) over and over. Try the Aramaic word that means “Come Lord” – Maranatha. Break it into four syllables:
    Breath In: Ma
    Breath Out: Ra
    Breath In: Na
    Breath Out: Tha

    When your mind drifts, bring yourself gently back.

  • Practice grace and forgiveness… towards yourself! Rather than piling up accusations against yourself (I should have… I am such an idiot… Why didn’t I… ) Try loading your brain with positive, helpful thoughts. Phrases like:

    • Sometimes I make mistakes. I can learn from them.
    • Most decisions in life involve tradeoffs.
    • I chose not to buy the most expensive gift.

    Want to change your prevailing viewpoint? Give yourself compassion and change your self-talk!

  • “Rack - Random Acts of Christmas KindnessMake a point to be spontaneously kind. Print a calendar page for December. (Click on the underlined words to go and get one to print.) Each day write something you’ve done to be helpful.

    Want a different idea to promote a randomly caring attitude? Try “RACK” (Random Acts of Christmas Kindness).

May one of these activities help you to find peace (and God with you) in this busy season!


Photo credits:
Click here for info on banner photo (not visible in readers or email).
Chaos by kevin dooley, who licensed this photo on Flickr (via photopin) under a Creative Commons License. Rest of photos from my archives. (I made the RACK’ed figure.)

Are you seeing ads? They are not from me! They are placed by WordPress, who otherwise offers a free platform from which to share lots of good-ness. If you see an inappropriate ad, please report it to support@wordpress.com. Include the URL, the date/time the ad appeared, and a screenshot of the ad.

Here comes Advent!

Advent is coming! It starts this Sunday!

Are you ready? Have you planned activities to engage your family in this season of preparing for Christmas? (And I don’t mean preparing as in scanning the ads for the biggest sale.)

Why Advent? The word “Advent” comes from Latin; it means “coming” or “arrival.” Advent signals that Christmas is coming; the day when we celebrate that God arrived on earth as baby Jesus. Advent gives us all-important time to prepare to celebrate Christ’s coming. We get to focus our hearts and minds and actions, on the amazing story of God with us!

What can we do during Advent? Try some of these activities:

Bring out the Advent wreath. Does yours need a spruce up?

Creating an Advent wreathThis Sunday, November 30th, at 10:45 in the Social Hall (at FUMC downtown), there will be supplies and equipment for wreath-making.

Bring your wreath from last year. Or, if you don’t have one, there will be materials to make a new one! (A donation to cover costs will be appreciated: wreath kit $12; candle set only, $5.) There will also be an opportunity to make a special Christmas ornament or two!

Light those Advent candles. Starting on Sunday and why not everyday, light the appropriate number of candles during your family dinner. Can’t all be there for dinner? How about over breakfast or over a bedtime snack? Or just use it as an excuse to gather together for shared family time. (Even if it’s only for 5 minutes!)

Use your Advent wreath as a way to spark faith conversation.
Print a copy of your Advent Wreath discussion guide.

the sunrises through the treesGo on a photo hunt! Contribute pictures to be used in worship that are based on a weekly theme. The theme for each week will be announced in the bulletin. Due Dec. 1st – photos that reflect why our world needs hope. Due Dec. 8th – Photos that convey sorrow and/or joy, grief and/or hope. A sunrise looks hopeful to me.

Use an Advent Calendar. There are all sorts of these to be found, though they typically count the days in December (as opposed to the weeks of Advent). Use your Nativity set as an Advent Calendar – set up a path of numbered “stepping stones” (cut from paper?) Have Mary and Joseph slowly make their way to the stable scene.

An Advent paper chainOR, have your kids assemble a paper chain with 24 links. Print out this list of Bible verses and glue one verse to each link. Every day in December snip a link and read the Bible together.

OR, Use my favorite Bible storybook – The Jesus Storybook Bible. Read one story each day. (They all tie to Jesus.) Download a PDF of this reading plan. A sample of which is shown below. (There are multiple other, not-so-fancy versions out on the internet. Do a search.)

A page from the Advent Calendar based on The Jesus Storybook Bible

grass grows in a cupPlant Straw for the Manger.Fill a cup with potting soil. Place it on a sunward windowsill. Have a container of seeds close by – use grass seed or “cat grass” or wheat berries. Every time someone does something nice for someone, they get to plant a seed. Watch it grow (water regularly) and on December 24th mow it down to fill the manger in your crèche scene.

Use unexpected moments to focus on Advent themes. Find yourself stuck in traffic or in the slow lane at the store? Transform your marking-time-moment into an example of how the Israelites waited for the arrival of the Savior – for hundreds of years! What are other daily instances that remind you of peace, light, grace, joy, hope, love…?

You've been RACK'ed - Random Acts of Christmas Kindness
Check this list
of other Advent ideas…
including Random Acts of Christmas Kindness! A fun way to put the focus on being kind to others.

What Advent activities are being arranged in your household?


Photo credits:
Click here for info on banner photo (not visible in readers or email).
Grass in a cup by Shardayyy under a Creative Commons license.
The page from
The Jesus Storybook Bible Advent calendar created under fair usage (I’m linking to their product at no benefit to myself.) And you’ll for sure want one. Did I mention that it’s my favorite?
Other photos from my archives.

Are you seeing ads? They are not from me! They are placed by WordPress, who otherwise offers a free platform from which to share lots of good-ness. If you see an inappropriate ad, please report it to support@wordpress.com. Include the URL, the date/time the ad appeared, and a screenshot of the ad.

Our Advent Rotation (2014)

Our next Rotation is about… Christmas!

A crèche scene

Since Christmas comes every year this allows us the chance to, each year, focus on a different aspect of the story. We’ve done Advent Rotations from the point of view of:

This year we’ll take a look at the overall birth story of Jesus. Our target is to ensure that kids know the sequence and timing of story events surrounding Jesus’ birth. We’ll also be digging into the concept of “God with us.”

Our story is found by interweaving the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Read the story as the kids will hear it, in Luke 1:26-38, Matthew 1:18-23, Luke 2:1-18.


On Sundays, at the downtown location of FUMC, our schedule is:

Date Our workshops for 1st through 5th graders…
Art Cooking Drama Games
Room 212 Social Hall Room 215 Room 204
11/23 1st & 5th grade 2nd grade 4th grade 3rd grade
11/30 4th grade 3rd grade 2nd grade 1st & 5th grade
12/7 Enjoy worship and Communion with your family.
Read the scripture to be used in the service.
12/14 2nd grade 1st & 5th grade 3rd grade 4th grade
12/21 3rd grade 4th grade 1st & 5th grade 2nd grade
12/28 Enjoy worship with your family. (One service at 9:30.)

And here’s what the 6th graders will be doing this Rotation…
Lots of special projects! (They’ll almost always be in the Pine Room.)

11/23 11/30 12/7 12/14 12/21 12/28
Watch a short video called “The Coat: A Story of Charity.” Participate in a service project for the Humane Society. Do baking for Ronald McDonald House families. Worship with your family. Read the scripture to be used in the service. Spend the morning with our younger kids! Perform a drama, read storybooks and sing with them. A Christmas party! Worship with your family.

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

Date Workshop or Activity
11/22 Work on a service project. (Bring your favorite music to listen to while we work.)
11/29 Game night! Bring your favorite board or card game.
12/6 Art Workshop
12/13 Cooking Workshop
12/20 Drama Workshop
12/27 Worship with your family

What’s happening in each workshop?

  • In the Art Workshop students will help tell the story using various colors of felt, creating a “stained glass window.” They will create a stained “glass” scene made into a Christmas tree ornament that reminds them of the story of Jesus’ birth.
  • In the Cooking Workshop students will create a nativity snack bag with items to represent story elements. They will get to try out some of this snack at church but will bring home a bag of goodies. Share this snack bag as a family and have your child use it to retell the story!
  • In the Drama Workshop students will enact the story. What a great way to learn the story details by participating in the story!
  • In the Games Workshop students will play a quiz game to see how much they really know about the 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.



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

Are you seeing ads? They are not from me! They are placed by WordPress, who otherwise offers a free platform from which to share lots of good-ness. If you see an inappropriate ad, please report it to support@wordpress.com. Include the URL, the date/time the ad appeared, and a screenshot of the ad.

What does it feel like to be called?

A tin can phone

A bunch of us were gathered for our weekly Disciple Bible study, and talk turned to being called by God. “Called” as in: God prompting you to do something. This sparked the question in my mind:

How do we know when God is calling?

What does it sound like (or look like or feel like) when God calls?

Discuss this concept with your family group (perhaps around the dinner table). Start off with a couple rounds of the game “Telephone.” (Where one person starts and whispers something to the person next to them. They in turn whisper what they heard to the next person, and so on.) It can be fun to see how the whispered phrase likely gets distorted.

Was it hard to hear? (Especially through the giggles.)

We live in a very noisy, active world. How do we listen for God?

For most of us God doesn’t talk with words passed via whispers in our ears. But then again, perhaps God does whisper! How?

  • God speaks to us through the Bible. A suggestion: Read our current Rotation story. Check the latest schedule post for the scripture.
  • God speaks to us through prayer. Prayer is more than just communicating our thoughts and needs. Include a time of being in silent prayer to listen for God. Try closing your eyes and breathe normally. If you have trouble being silent try starting off with repeating a sacred word or phrase that calms your mind. (Try “Lord come,” or “Holy One” or “Immanuel.”)
  • God speaks to us through worship, and music, and nature, and books, and other people.
But I don’t know if what I heard is my idea, or God’s. How can I tell?
  • What is the source? Can it be trusted?
  • Examine your thoughts and compare them with the Word of God. Does what you are hearing align with what the Bible teaches?
  • Do certain phrases or ideas keep randomly “reappearing?” Pay attention!
  • Talk with trusted adults about your call.

Followers of Christ put faith into action!

What is God nudging you to do?



Photo credits:
Click here for info on banner photo (not visible in readers or email).
Telephone by Florian Seroussi, who licensed this photo on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

Are you seeing ads? They are not from me! They are placed by WordPress, who otherwise offers a free platform from which to share lots of good-ness. If you see an inappropriate ad, please report it to support@wordpress.com. Include the URL, the date/time the ad appeared, and a screenshot of the ad.

Being a disciple is hard work!

A cropped picture of a painting of Jesus calling Matthew by William HoleA few fishermen, a tax collector, and some other unseemly students… the hard work started with the abrupt summons: “Follow me.” They don’t even seem to give it a second thought! Consider what they each gave up to become disciples of Jesus…

Matthew probably gave up a pile of money. (That’s him in the painting, in his tax collector’s “booth”).

The fishermen gave up a rich haul of fish (as told in Luke 5:1-11).

Bartholomew (called Nathanael in John’s gospel) gave up his uncertainty.

James and John, sons of Zebedee, gave up their fishing equipment… and they left behind their father!

What about yourself?

What must you forfeit to follow Jesus?

Discuss these possibilities amongst your family group. Do you give up…

  • Sleep? Most of us don’t get enough sleep; I sure could use a few more zzz’s on Sunday morning.
  • Time? Read the Bible? Pray? They take time! My days are already jam-packed! (And I’d rather play a computer game.)
  • My ego? Because being a disciple places the focus on God and I like things to be about me.
  • My comfort zone? Because I don’t enjoy _______. (Fill in the blank: Hanging out with people I don’t know, or rubbing shoulders with the down-trodden, or opening my wallet.)
  • Dignity? Because I might do this disciple-thing wrong (and what would people say?) And yikes! Every decision I make is an exercise in discipleship!
  • A firm life-path? I want answers and a road map. Following Jesus can be scary! Who knows where I will be led next?
  • Reputation? Because maybe I’ll be laughed at. (You follow Jesus!?)
  • Society’s endless clamor for praise, power, and possessions? There are just so many distractions from Jesus’ calling! This is hard!
What difficult choices are you being called to make?

(Mess up? Me too. It’s okay. You can start to follow again and again!)


Photo credits:
Click here for info on banner photo (not visible in readers or email).
Painting of Jesus calling Matthew, by William Hole, in the Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Are you seeing ads? They are not from me! They are placed by WordPress, who otherwise offers a free platform from which to share lots of good-ness. If you see an inappropriate ad, please report it to support@wordpress.com. Include the URL, the date/time the ad appeared, and a screenshot of the ad.

Eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, and practice discipleship

A Super-Disciple!

It is easy to understand why Jesus assembled a crew of special disciples. Jesus needed help!

Enter, the Super Disciples!

These were not just average, I-like-the-sound-of-what-you-are-preaching, admirers. Jesus invited his apprentice good-news-broadcasters to come, follow me; become my students.

Fairly early in his ministry, they were called to receive basic training in Super Discipleship.

These selected followers saw it firsthand: God was up to something big! Here was a belief system that changed how you looked at everything! Transformed lives! And though they stumbled at times, Jesus’ disciples ended up doing an admirable job of spreading the good news about Christ, especially once they had the Holy Spirit.

Today Jesus still needs disciples to work at transforming the world. What about us?

Are we ho-hum fans, or are we Super-D disciples of Jesus?

 
It shouldn’t be a surprise that we need to work at becoming the latter.
How? It’s just like learning to play an instrument: we practice!

But how does one practice becoming this sort of committed disciple?

Here are some thoughts to ponder in forming a disciple-practice-plan:

  • Gather your family — how about around the dinner table? Read some of the stories of Jesus “calling” his disciples – fishermen, a tax collector, and others. Note that sometimes eventual followers were skeptical at first. Are we allowed to wonder at the mystery of what God is up to? You bet!
  • Next, discuss with your family what the difference is between an everyday follower and an in-it-for-the-long-run disciple like Peter and Matthew and James and John? How would it look if your family just “said” you were Jesus-followers vs. acted like you meant it? Would anything change or are you on that path now? Would you have to give something up? Is being a disciple of Christ one more thing to add to our to-do list? Or is it a new way of living?
  • According to your definition of a “Super Disciple,” tell stories of when you encountered someone like that. What was it that made that person memorable? What could you emulate? Perhaps you could invite a voted-upon Super D to share a supper with you?
  • Discuss which of these areas need your focus:
     A check-box On-going Christian education (not just for the kids!)
     A check-box Worshiping together as a family.
     A check-box Celebrating Communion together as a family.
     A check-box Regular Bible reading and prayer.
     A check-box Participation in mission to others.
The Rule of Discipleship: Worship, Devotion, Compassion & Justice

As United Methodist followers of Jesus’ teachings, we are guided in our quest to be Super Disciples by what is called “The General Rule of Discipleship” which is described in The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church as: following Christ “through acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”

This means we practice being disciples by inward, life-giving means such as worship and “devotion” (prayer and Bible study), and by outward participation in God’s mission for the world: seeking justice and having compassion for others.

Pastor Nancy Lynn told us about this in a sermon she preached at FUMC on September 7, 2014, saying: “These four acts reflect that our journey of faith is personal as well as social, private as well as public, inward as well as outward. And to grow and be healthy, we need balance between them.”
 
A person who commits to practicing can become a Super Disciple. How are you practicing discipleship?
 
 

Photo credits:
Click here for info on banner photo (not visible in readers or email).
A Super Disciple! was altered from an image by Jam Zhang, who licensed this photo on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.
The Rule of Discipleship symbol © 2014, The General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church. Used by permission.

Are you seeing ads? They are not from me! They are placed by WordPress, who otherwise offers a free platform from which to share lots of good-ness. If you see an inappropriate ad, please report it to support@wordpress.com. Include the URL, the date/time the ad appeared, and a screenshot of the ad.

Come, watch, hear, see, follow, and… learn to fish?

Fish prints hanging up in the Social Hall

Updated to add all of the fish prints in the slide show below!

Have you seen them on display around the church?


We hear a lot about disciples. Every time someone is baptized in church we all say together: “We will pray for them that they may be true disciples…” And every Sunday (at the 9:30 service) we sing the kids on their way to Sunday’s Cool: “Go ye, go ye into the world, and make disciples of all the nations…”

So what’s a disciple? How does one get to be a “disciple?”

  • The word “disciple” means “student” or “learner.”
  • A teacher has students/disciples.
  • A student/disciple watches his teacher very closely, listening intently to everything he says. A student/disciple will even watch how his teacher ties his sandals!
  • A student/disciple tries to emulate their teacher; their desire is to follow in his footsteps.

In Jesus’ day the cream-of-the-crop students could pursue their education by asking a scholarly teacher, known as a rabbi: “Could I please be one of your students?” I picture ambitious eager beavers literally burning the midnight oil memorizing the Jewish Bible (our Old Testament) to achieve entrance into just the right group. Only the brightest were chosen to be the disciples of a particular rabbi. (The run-of-the-mills took up a trade such as carpentry.)

Jesus followed a different path. The teacher Jesus, the rabbi Jesus, invited people to be his disciples. We say that he “called” them.

A fish print done by a 5th grader

At least four of the people Jesus called, had made a living catching fish. In fact he told them…

Open quote markCome, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!
Matthew 4:19

Jesus was asking lowly fishermen to be his students?

It proves you don’t have to be somebody important to be a disciple of Jesus.

You don’t have to be perfect.
You don’t have to be worthy-enough.
Or get straight A’s. Or live in a big house.
No midnight oil required.

A fish print done by a 4th grader

In our Art Workshop for our current Rotation at FUMC in Ann Arbor, MI, we are making fish prints using an ancient Japanese process called Gyotaku (pronounced gee-oh-TAH-koo). Long ago Gyotaku was a way of making a record of the size of a fish one caught.

A fish print made by a 5th grader

Why make fish prints? It turns out that fishing has a lot of similarities to being a disciple.

  • You need to have the right training and some basic supplies.
  • It takes persistent practice.
  • Sometimes you don’t catch anything. Yet you cast again and again.
  • At times, being quiet helps.

Enjoy the slide show of the fish prints.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


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

Are you seeing ads? They are not from me! They are placed by WordPress, who otherwise offers a free platform from which to share lots of good-ness. If you see an inappropriate ad, please report it to support@wordpress.com. Include the URL, the date/time the ad appeared, and a screenshot of the ad.